by Matt Rosenberg March 17th, 2010
Writing at Cheeky Geeky, the fairly remarkable Mark Drapeau – who took a new job in January as Microsoft’s Director Of Innovative Social Engagement, says that “Government 2.0″ software applications utilizing public data need to be more geared to regular folks, not the kind of uber-geeks who live and breathe “ubiquitous computing” via mobile Web technology. Drapeau (below, left) writes:
In the Government 2.0 world, it’s popular to develop apps that do something with government data. There have been contests called Apps for Democracy and Apps for America. They get a lot of hype before and during, but what about after? The apps developed for America are rarely heard from again, seemingly disappearing into the gigantic app glut, swallowed whole. There are interesting apps, to be sure. But how many people who aren’t tech elites use any of these apps? (What is the percentage of people who are residents of Washington, DC who even have an iPhone?) If there’s a study out there on this, I’d like to see it. Rarely has an app from a Government 2.0 apps content gone on to fame and fortune. Rarely has someone turned, say, a maps and crime app into something put in hotel kiosks for tourists, or adapted it so that it could be used via the simple texting that average people have.
Software developers are important and so, I suppose, are the digital elite – both continue to push the envelope of the possible. But with more and more city, county, and state governments – as well as the feds – wading into Web-based information services, remember that the intended beneficiaries include several groups who are at risk of being overlooked.
Let’s focus on:
1) people who are Web-literate, engaged voters and citizens – but whose primary computer is a desktop or laptop. They want better information about government spending, programs, planning and public engagement opportunities, but simply aren’t interested in the “always wired” life.
2) Folks from low-income or immigrant backgrounds who are eager to learn how to use the Internet but may have limited access and experience. What will draw them in to the world of Government 2.0 as they use a desktop at the community center or public library?
Several more questions through which government data sets and so-called “civic applications” (a.k.a. “civic apps” or “Government 2.0 apps”) should be filtered: Do I have to download new software just to use it? If it’s a data set, is it easy to use and draw meaning from? How can the tool facilitate improvements in constituent service?
After thinking hard about what’s possible and beneficial, let’s make our online information needs known more clearly to officialdom. Clarity, efficient aggregation, and robust feedback opportunities will help enable better public data and better public engagement. That can yield better government performance, and better-informed decisions by individuals in their daily lives.