World Internet Project stated that "broadband changes everything." The next evolution of the Web no doubt is largely being driven by the amazing user experience and functionality delivered by the iPhone and other smartphones. iPhone applications are no longer just toys for techies! This week we looked at examples of health and fitness iPhone apps, and 2010 Winter Olympics iPhone apps. Today we check out what's being delivered by government.It was a few years ago that the
These app posts aren't about listing the "best" iPhone apps in a given category. That's because deciding which app is best for you really depends on your requirements. For example, if you are looking to a government agency to help you find the nearest library, you're not interested in an application that allows you to calculate mortgage rates - even if we recommended it. So what we're doing is showing examples of available functionality.
Government agencies around the world are notorious for delivering less-than-optimal website experiences. This is often due to a government agency, rather than citizens, driving website requirements.
There are other factors, such as legislation, that demand transparency and leads to the publishing of multiple documents that the majority of people could care less about. As a result, government domains have bloated to unbelievable sizes, and some governments such as those in the U.K. and New Zealand have adopted consolidation policies.
Based on this example, we have to admit we were expecting that governments would simply port their same, less-than-optimal website experiences to the mobile Web. However, we were able to uncover a few intriguing mobile government apps that are, to our delight, useful and usable!
Reporting an Issue to Government
GoRequest is a location-aware iPhone application that allows a person to log an issue with their local government. The app is free and submits issues directly into the issue tracking system. The user experience is top notch - simple and task oriented. Unfortunately, it is only available in 22 cities so far in the U.S.
For the lucky ones that live in these enlightened locations, you are able to select from a list of potential issues as broad as Road Kill (Dead Animal on Roadway), Graffiti, Accidental Spills, Illegal Dumping, Abandoned Vehicles, Police Non-Emergency, Ice Removal From Gutters and more. Once you have selected the issue, you can enter a description and take a photo of, for example, the dead animal. The application detects your location automatically.
America's Most Wanted
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched, of course, an app for its Most Wanted list. The app lists the Top Ten Most Wanted, the Most Wanted Terrorists as well as a list of top missing kids.
If you have information about one of the Most Wanted, you can submit a tip to the FBI. The app also provides links to FBI Tweets and its YouTube and Facebook pages. Unfortunately there is no sharing functionality incorporated into the app. The application was built by NIC, which is a provider of outsourced eGovernment portals.
Government Data On Steroids
NYC Way is a great example of application developers taking all the open government data they can find and turning it into something useful - although we question the usability. NYC Way was pointed out to us by Adam Greenfield on his recent visit to Wellington.
The best way to describe this app is that it's an application portal to 32 useful applications that offer New York City-specific location-based services. You can use it to locate the nearest free Wi-Fi, coffee shop or restroom, report an issue to city officials, or learn safety tips. Although the user experience as a portal is something to be desired, the functionality and helpful data available is truly mind boggling - a Swiss Army knife for finding your way around New York City. This app portal has benefits for locals and tourists alike.
The Saving Grace?
There is still the risk that government agencies will approach mobile much like they have approached the Web. Fortunately, the constraints - such as cost of development, screen size, functionality and file size - that are inherent in developing for the iPhone and other smartphones may be the saving grace that forces agencies to think twice about users' real needs.
Do you have a favorite government app on your smartphone? Are small, regional agencies better at creating user-friendly apps, or do federal agencies do it best? Let us know in the comments!
Building photo credit: Ivan Petrov