November 21, 2013 By Bill Schrier
In a similar way, 9/11 and the destruction of the World Trade Centers may have robbed the rest of us (even those of us in now in our 60s) of our youth.
When Oswald killed John F. Kennedy, he also killed – or at least damaged – the "youthful outlook" of the "Greatest Generation" – those who had survived the Great Depression and put their young lives on hold to fight World War II. That generation – which included my parents – came back to peacetime, after WWII, and immediately married, had kids (lots of kids – the Baby Boomers) and became engaged in work and business.
This generation saw Kennedy as a hero. He was, indeed, a bonafide war hero from PT-109. But he also had an eloquence and a youthful outlook on the world symbolized by his goal to put a man on the moon and his speeches including "ask not what you can do for your country …".
Oswald killed all that.
And afterward, of course, my own generation would not "trust anyone over 30"; the nation became bogged down in the Vietnam War; and my parents suddenly became "old fogies". Bill Flanagan on CBS Sunday Morning eloquently described the disillusionment which followed November 22, 1963.
Something similar occurred, I fear, after September 11, 2013.
For over 230 years, the United States survived on isolationism. We were separated from Europe and Asia by vast oceans as well as centuries in time. The United States was the "young democracy" on the globe. Sure, we lived in fear of nuclear Armageddon during the Cold War. But "bombs dropping invisibly from the sky" is an abstract concept. And, of course, that nuclear war never happened.
September 11, 2001, changed all that.
The war came to our shores. Americans died – by the thousands – in Manhattan.
And, I think, to a great extent, the "youthful outlook" of the generations who lived through and remember 9/11 died also.
Now we have a National Security Agency which tracks our phone calls and our social media and probably tracks our email and web browsing. We’ve built a giant security apparatus worthy of George Orwell’s 1984. Our drones strike at people around the world. We fear the Chinese have completely cyber-infiltrated our government systems and private businesses. Every time we go through a TSA line at an airport we are personally reminded that terrorists live among us. We’ve wasted trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives (including the lives of the dismembered) on foreign wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Every month another mass-shooting born of mental illness and despair seems to occur. And we are constantly reminded that our passwords are not secure, our financial information is not secure, and our very identities may be stolen.
I have great cause for hope, as well. There’s a whole generation growing up now who do NOT remember 9/11. The wars are winding down (although the debt they left us has not). We've got a vigorous non-profit sector of hackers (in the good sense of the term) who are building applications from open source and demanding open government data. A whole set of technologies is sprouting which will enrich our lives: network-connected glasses, autonomous vehicles, tablet and smartphone computers, and other wonders yet to be unveiled.
Lee Harvey Oswald robbed a generation of its youth.
9/11 robbed more generations of our youth.
Can our next generation perhaps live out its dreams?
October 16, 2013 By Bill Schrier
Today (October 17) is the debut of the "real" Windows 8, thank goodness. And a perfect time for reflections on my love/hate affair with Microsoft.
I love Microsoft. I envy Steve Ballmer's hairline. Microsoft Office is the greatest thing since the invention of the personal computer. I love Office so much I refuse to buy a tablet computer (iPad, Galaxy, Note, Surface RT) because almost none of those plastic/glass doo-dads will run my favorite programs - Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and OneNote. Microsoft employs 40,000 people in my hometown area of Seattle, which vastly improves the quality of life here. Microsofties leave the company to found their own startup companies which makes for a really exciting technology scene - just ask Todd Bishop or John Cook at Geekwire. I love the X-Box 360 and I love Microsoft Research with products like web-based translation. And the Kinect is leading us into the future of gesture-based computing.
I love Microsoft so much I say "bing it" when others say "google it".
I hate Microsoft. Steve Ballmer laughed at the first iPhone because it didn't have a keyboard. His answer: the "Kin" twins which lasted one month. Microsoft completely missed the tablet revolution, until it finally, three years after the iPad, came out with the Surface RT with zero apps and almost complete incompatibility with everything else in tech.
Windows 8 and its Metro interface is a travesty. What were Ballmer and his brain trust thinking when they rolled out Windows 8? They urinated off on every Enterprise and Enterprise desktop user of Windows, a billion or more users in all.
There is zero zip nada which is nice about Windows 8 and the #@%! "metro" interface for folks using a keyboard and mouse. I resisted buying a Windows 8 computer because I don't have a touch screen and I knew it would be tough learning to use Win8, but I had no idea how bad until now, when I actually have to use it. Finding simple stuff like the control panel is a monstrous chore, as are other simple tasks such as closing a Metro window for Adobe reader. How the hell do you "swipe up" with a mouse? Half the time the "charms" never appear when using a mouse.
I could go on-and-on but I'm totally baffled why Microsoft would spend all this time and effort on a new, touch-screen optimized OS when their bread-and-butter is enterprise customers using desktop computers with no touchscreen.
Does Steve Ballmer have a death-wish for his company?
Even folks who use touchscreens spend little time in Metroland and most of their time on the "traditional" desktop interface, if they can find it. There are plenty of rants about this on the web of course, too, including ones on microsoft.com.
I could go back and forth all day with my love/hate of Microsoft and its products:
So after all the harping and carping on my favorite hometown company (although Boeing and Amazon are actively competing for that "favorite" spot), do I have some advice for my friends and their new CEO in Redmond? You bet.
Microsoft, I love you. I desperately want you to succeed. Please stop shooting yourself (and your customers) in the foot.
September 25, 2013 By Bill Schrier
FirstNet is the First Responder Network Authority. FirstNet was created by Congress in February, 2012, and authorized to spend up to $7 billion to build a nationwide public safety wireless network. A Board of 15 members was appointed in August, 2012, to begin the work.
In April, 2013, one board member, Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald raised concerns about lack of transparency in the work of the Board. The FirstNet Board convened a special review committee to look at Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald's concerns that FirstNet was not being open in the way it conducted its meetings, hired its staff and operated in general.
I have no special expertise or thoughts regarding Sheriff Fitzgerald's concerns as expressed in his April, 2013, resolution, or the report of the special review committee announced on September 23rd.
But I do have specific concerns of my own and suggestions for the FirstNet Board and staff.
Suggestion: Be more open about your meetings.
Some board meetings are open and announced, although the agendas are not published very far in advance. But other meetings of the full board clearly happen and are NOT announced in advance, and I’ve never seen announcement of committee meetings or weekly board teleconference calls.
One example: FirstNet had an open meeting on Tuesday, June 4th in Colorado. Many people were there for a PSCR meeting at the same time. But, unbeknownst to most of us, the Board actually had an all-day meeting the day before, June 3rd, when they reviewed and essentially approved a fiscal year 2014 budget! During the open meeting they constantly referred back to the Monday meeting which was both closed and unannounced. It was hard to follow the open meeting due to phrases like “as we discussed yesterday”. Oh yeah? What did you discuss yesterday?
I suggest FirstNet should announce EVERY board meeting and EVERY board committee meeting, and, at least in general, what the subject matter is.
We all understand some meetings will have to be closed for budgetary and personnel matters. But EVERY meeting, even the closed ones, should be announced and the subject, at least, should be public.
And when the open meetings actually happen, make them like city council or state legislative meetings - in a large open room where there is plenty of space for an audience. Allow some "public comment" before or after. And not just for press, but for many of the rest of us who are interested in FirstNet work.
Oh, and, by the way, does FirstNet know that a meeting held at 10AM Eastern Time is 7AM Pacific Time, 6AM Alaska time and 5AM Hawaii time?
Finally, it is commendable that FirstNet webcasts video of its meetings and accepts questions via the phone, then quickly publishes a verbatim transcript. But I suggest getting a professional service with good microphones and cameras to improve the quality of those broadcasts.
Suggestion: Publish a directory of staff names, responsibilities and contact information.
For example, I chaired a meeting of city, county and State CIOs at the APCO annual conference in Anaheim in August, 2013. Deputy General Manager T. J. Kennedy came into the meeting and gave his business card to each of us, spoke at length, answered questions and interacted quite well with the group.
I applaud this openness.
But there's no website which shows the FirstNet organization and the names and contact information. (The org chart itself is buried in a PowerPoint someplace online.)
Much worse is transparency on contractors.
Again, I’ve interacted with a few of FirstNet’s contracted staff. They are knowledgeable and professional on the phone and at meetings. They listen, interact and are genuinely committed to FirstNet’s mission. In person and on the phone they are quite willing to give out their contact information.
But many of us involved at the state and private level have been approached by people who say they are FirstNet contractors - and they are, I guess, but how would we know? Where's the "index" or website listing all the contractor names and their responsibilities?
Perhaps there’s some fear that if all that contact information is on a public website, the staff will be inundated with phone calls and email messages, but I think most of us on the outside will be more respectful about that.
And a small suggestion: anyone involved with FirstNet should have a signature block which includes their name, title and contact info attached to the email messages they send.
Suggestion: Be more open when contractors are hired.
Just like when full-time staff are hired, couldn’t FirstNet make some announcements or tweet or something to tell the community that a new contractor is on board? Tell us a little about their background and qualifications. Tell us how they fit into FirstNet's overall planning and work.
We all understand that contractors are hired for various reasons and from various sources. Often a board member or another contractor or a full-time FirstNet staff person knows someone they've worked with in the past who has certain skills, and they are hired on that basis. That's fine.
When I've hired people I always looked for people who were known to be competent or referred by my existing staff and employees. A secondary benefit is the existing staff became invested in the success of the new hire.
Especially at the beginning, but even now, FirstNet contractor hires appeared to be all people almost exclusively with private company cellular technology expertise. Some of the first hires had little or no experience with LTE. It was (and still is) a mystery as to how they were hired, by what mechanism, and what their connection or expertise/background is. The lack of transparency here certainly contributes to the feeling that the effort is being managed or railroaded in a certain direction.
Be open about all this. It will only add credibility to these key individuals and the role they are each playing.
I’ll give a specific example. Brian Kassa was a senior LTE engineer with Nokia Siemens. He joined FirstNet’s technical team as a contractor a few months ago. One of his duties is interacting with State government teams. I’ve known Brian for a few years and he actually is a responder working on a search-and-rescue team near Seattle. He’s an outstanding engineer, very committed to the effort. But you’d never know he’s working on this effort from looking at websites or other public documents/announcements from FirstNet.
If FirstNet trumpets hires like Brian, they will build their own credibility as an organization which hires good people and is moving quickly to design the network.
Suggestion: Appoint some more advisory committees
The Spectrum Act requires just one advisory committee – a public safety advisory committee or PSAC. That committee has been appointed. But it is somewhat of a mystery as to what charge that committee has, when it meets and what’s on the agenda for the meetings. Notes and minutes of the meetings are not publicly available.
Now, most of that information is available if you know someone on the PSAC. And the PSAC Chair, Harlin McEwen, is one of the very best at quick responses to email and being open to talking on the phone.
But I’d suggest FirstNet allow the PSAC to be much more open and public with what it is doing, including staffing it to allow it to do more work and have meetings which are more open. Create a special section on http://www.firsnet.gov for the PSAC.
I’d suggest FirstNet consider appointing some additional advisory committees – which are allowed under the law – to increase the amount of input it gets and its openness. Specifically there could be a commercial advisory committee of potential vendors and manufacturers.
There also could be a committee which directly includes the state governments upon which FirstNet will depend upon to build its network and its user base. Another committee might include secondary responders such as public and private utilities, transportation and transit departments.
Again, the idea here is to improve FirstNet’s outreach to this potential user base. A secondary effect of the additional committees is getting more people involved - and therefore committed - to the overall effort. Yes, all of this will take staffing and money. But small investments today will pay big dividends (I think) when FirstNet is marketing its new network and services.
Suggestion: Get a decent website with calendar of events
I think that’s self-explanatory, if you look at the present website. I understand this new website is in the works, promised “within a month” as of this writing. But gee folks, the Board was announced in August, 2012, and there are hundreds of great web design firms out there. Does it take 13 months to get a decent website?
Having a comprehensive, easy-to-use website demonstrates FirstNet’s commitment to transparency.
The website also needs to include a decent calendar of events. Presently there is a calendar of speaking events on the existing website, but NOT a calendar of FirstNet meetings or events.
Here’s a specific example. Kevin McGinnis is the Board member responsible for tribal outreach and has done a good job trying to contact as many tribal officials as possible. FirstNet originally set a meeting of tribal officials for August 26th for Washington DC, which then was pushed back to October and is now November 4th. Nowhere on any website or other document (as far as I know) has this meeting been announced. It is all word of mouth or, presumably, email messages to a group of tribal officials (I’ve never seen such emails, however).
Suggestion: Get your own lawyers.
After the Spectrum Act passed, a lot of attorneys made a lot of money interpreting it.
The FCC, NTIA and DHS all had their staff attorneys go over it with a fine tooth comb, and I suspect there was a little bit of infighting as roles and responsibilities were sorted out.
It seems that, in some cases, the FirstNet Board and staff let the lawyers tell them what they can and cannot do. I suspect that’s what going on in the spectrum leases with the 8 jurisdictions who have money and had FCC waivers to build their own networks. Here it is, 18 months after those jurisdictions were told by NTIA they couldn’t spend grant funds on LTE equipment, and only two of them have a spectrum lease allowing them to proceed on their networks. Elected officials, Mayors, Governors, Legislators, City Councils, police and fire chiefs supported these 8 efforts to build locally, and this long delay (both NTIA's delay and the slowness in spectrum lease negotiations) has made some of them wary of FirstNet. I believe some of that delay has to do with the lawyers who are advising FirstNet that it cannot spend money on these pilots or otherwise has to restrict them. Such lawyers are (in my opinion) taking the most conservative possible interpretation of the law and what it allows or doesn’t allow with these early builders.
What I’ve written in the previous couple of paragraphs is speculative, of course, because FirstNet has NOT been transparent about what the real issues are in the spectrum lease negotiations.
The 8 early builders represent a tremendous opportunity for FirstNet to be entrepreneurial and test out a number of different models in the real world of public safety. The user stories from these 8 sites can help cement and improve public safety’s (and general government’s) support for FirstNet.
When I ran the information technology department of Seattle’s City government, I had city attorney’s ADVISE me on contracts, risks and other matters. But in the end it was the attorney's ADVICE and it was up to me to make the decisions and take some risks to move government forward with technology.
It seems like the commercial members of the FirstNet Board should be quite familiar with this entrepreneurial model. Perhaps they should say to the lawyers “thank you for the advice” but take some risks to get these 8 early builders going and make them successful.
Jeff Johnson and Craig Farrill have been outstanding “on the road” speaking and obtaining input about the project. They’ve been open. They’ve demonstrated the ability to listen. They know there are huge challenges ahead and they’ve been transparent about them. See, for example, page 22 of Jeff's report to the board here.
But FirstNet also understands (or needs to understand) that only a tiny fraction of their potential stakeholders know anything at all about the project, and most of the public – especially the technology-knowledgeable public – knows even less. If you don’t think so, just read the comments in this Ars Technica article about FirstNet.
I just hope the outreach teams hired full time have the same sort of ability to listen and honesty which Jeff and Craig have displayed.
Closing: FirstNet has a great natural wellspring of support. More openness will capitalize on it.
Over the last four or five years, there was a huge campaign which generated public safety support for assigning the D block to public safety and to pass the Spectrum Act which created FirstNet. Indeed, I’ll often go to 911 centers or first responder departments here in Washington State to talk about the upcoming nationwide public safety wireless broadband network, and people will say – “that’s the D block, right”?
This support is a major untapped resource for FirstNet.
First responders, especially, want to see this work succeed. But, in addition, most of the associations and organizations comprising the old PSST (Public Safety Spectrum Trust) plus many telecommunications carriers, manufacturers, consultants and others have a long-term vested interest in the success of FirstNet’s mission.
FirstNet, be open about what you’re doing. Embrace all these stakeholders, especially courageous, concerned folks like Sheriff Fitzgerald. Ask them for advice and support. Reach out to the larger potential user base - transportation, public works, utilities, railroads, small telephone companies and others.
Being open, transparent and welcoming today will not only help you build the network tomorrow, but will also stand you in good stead as the inevitable bumps occur on your road to success.
Caution: This statement represents the personal views of Bill Schrier, and does not reflect the views or opinions of any governmental or non-governmental association with which I’m affiliated. There may be inadvertent inaccuracies in the material presented above, and, if there are, contact me and I’ll fix them.
August 22, 2013 By Bill Schrier
When you are in a life-threatening emergency – a serious car accident or having a heart attack or your house is on fire – what do you do? You call 9-1-1, of course. With the emphasis on CALL, because, with just a few exceptions, there’s no other way to get police or firefighter or emergency medical help except calling on the phone. You can’t text 9-1-1 or send an email to a PSAP or tweet to 9-1-1.
9-1-1 Centers, often called PSAPs or Public Safety Answering Points, have a lot of sophisticated technology beyond 1920s-era voice phone calls, but very little of it is used to communicate with the public.
The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the government – specifically the Federal Department of Transportation – have a plan to fix that. The plan is called "Next Generation 9-1-1" or NG-9-1-1. At some point you may be able to text 9-1-1 or send an e-mail message or upload photos and video to help first responders protect life and property.
Some cities, however, have already implemented 3-1-1 systems for non-emergency customer service. In these cities – Portland and Denver for examples– you call 9-1-1 for emergencies and 3-1-1 to get help with any other municipal government service such as building permits, streetlight repair or animal control.
I recently did a podcast with Mark Fletcher on the Avaya Podcast Network (APN) discussing 9-1-1, 3-1-1 and these next-generation contact methods for the public. Fletch(@Fletch911) and I came up with the term "Next Generation 3-1-1" to describe using a set of new technologies and social media for citizens to reach their governments for service.
What can NG-9-1-1 and PSAPS learn from "next generation 3-1-1"?
Well, for one thing, "next generation 3-1-1" has already arrived. If you are in one of the places with 3-1-1, you can obviously just call that number to initiate almost any government service or report a problem. But virtually all those 3-1-1 cities also offer a 3-1-1 web input form and give you a tracking number. Some of them now tweet and allow tweeting as an input. Others are experimenting with Facebook pages, online chat, and email. Many of these contact methods allow you to send a photo or video of the issue.
Another common contact method is texting – there’s even "an app for that" in Textizen, developed by Code for America. In truth, Textizenis as much about citizen engagement and interaction as it is 3-1-1 and requesting service. But the important point is that Philadelphia, Austin, Salt Lake City and other places have implemented it as an alternate contact method.
A final, powerful, "NG3-1-1" technology is the downloadable mobile app. Some cities have developed their own app such as Boston’s Citizen Connect or Seattle’s Find It Fix It. These are sometimes built on technology developed by private companies such as Connected Bits or See-Click-Fix (Ben Berkowitz, the CEO, is a worldwide leader in this space).
A frequent criticism of NG-3-1-1 services and apps is that they only work in one city. You can download the "Chicago Works" NG-3-1-1 app, but cross into the suburbs and it is useless. But Boston and Massachusetts fixing this by extending Boston’s Citizens Connect into Massachusetts Commonwealth Connect. This allows 40 cities in Massachusetts to have their own individually branded app, but, using the GPS feature on smartphones, to report problems no matter where they are. A resident of Chelsea who is in Boston for a Red Sox game could see a problem – a smashed stop sign for example – and use the Chelsea app to report it to the Boston
Admittedly, we have a long way to go with 3-1-1 – most places in the nation don’t have it (indeed, even in Boston and Seattle you don’t call 3-1-1, but rather a 10 digit phone number). But we can still think about some future "next generation" features for 3-1-1 which would be relatively easy to implement with today’s technology even if they are still difficult to implement in the culture of government operations:
Lessons for NG-9-1-1. I’ve laid out a long list of examples and suggestions above which, together, could be called the "landscape and roadmap" for Next Generation 3-1-1. Some of them clearly could be adopted for use in PSAPs and 9-1-1 centers. The "low hanging fruit" here, I think, for NG 9-1-1 is:
A number of obstacles remain, however:
And, most importantly, with 9-1-1 lives are often at stake, so thorough research and preparation must precede adoption of these new technologies in PSAPs.
My podcast with Mark Fletcher on the Avaya Podcast Network was a fortuitous meeting. We've probably coined the phrase "Next Generation 3-1-1". But while the tools and technologies of NG-3-1-1 certainly chart a path for PSAPs and NG-9-1-1, following that path will require innovative solutions to a number of obstacles.
July 2, 2013 By Bill Schrier
It seems like apps contests and apps challenges and hackathons sponsored by governments have been all the rage over the last couple of years.
They were kinda cool when they were new, in 2008, such as Washington DC's original "Apps for Democracy". Vivek Kundra, then CTO of the District, valued the apps developed there at $2.3 million, although how he arrived at that number is unknown.
But now apps contests are not just overdone - there are just so many of them - but actually are becoming counterproductive, turning off developers and governments. In fact, they are stupid.
First, the data sources are not standardized between different cities, counties and states. This leads to myriad problems.
One of the great breakthrough ideas in the government of the District of Columbia in 2008 was the concept of a "data catalog". Governments have always had masses of data which they crunched to produce reports and insights and to support policy development. But they also kept such data under lock-and-key. The District's government made some of those datasets open and available for citizens, academics, researchers and app developers to use. Kundra’s successors in D.C., Bryan Sivak and Rob Mancini, extended the District’s data catalog to 507 datasets. Kundra ported the idea to the federal government with data.gov, and a whole industry – including Seattle startup Socrata, is now built on opening up data.
But very few "normal" citizens are interested in this stuff. Many of them don't have the skills or interest to spend a lot of time loading thousands of rows of data into a spreadsheet or some statistics program and crunching the data. Most non-policy-wonk citizens, if they have an opinion on a policy issue at all, have that opinion based on a logical or emotional basis and don't generally want it polluted or confused by facts. As an example many people feel "crime is rampant in our city, we need more cops", when, actually, violent crime has dropped steadily in almost every US City for the last 20 years.
Nevertheless, the open data catalog is a brilliant idea because it allows developers to build apps using that data and display it in new and interesting ways.
My favorite example of this from the Apps for Democracy days is the "stumble safely" app.
This app used the crime dataset from the DC government. It took your location, as determined from the GPS on your smartphone, along with the time of day, day of the week and other information. It mashed that data against the crime dataset. And it showed the safest path for you to "stumble home" from a night of eating or drinking.
It no longer works.
A primary reason: "stumble safely" used the DC crime dataset, but was useless outside the District of Columbia. Few other cities - even today - have put their crime datasets in an open data catalog. And the formats of those datasets vary widely from place to place. So "stumble safely", written for the District of Columbia, won't work anyplace else unless it is modified for each individual city or government.
This is a common problem with almost all government open data on the web.
In fact, the only commonly used data which is standardized - as far as I know - is transit data with the GTFS standard promulgated by Google. Transit data is widely standardized because transit agencies are like private companies. They have to market and sell their services - ridership on buses and trains - or they will run budget deficits and cease to exist.
Few other government organizations are in the same situation - there is little incentive for police departments or fire departments or building inspectors or water departments or electric utilities to standardize their datasets and make them open. Indeed, most of them fear (wrongly so), that exposing data will open them to criticism for problems with the data or bad comparisons with other agencies, e.g. being less efficient or more expensive at delivering service than the same agency in a nearby city. And every agency will say "we don't have the time or money to standardize our data." It takes strong leadership (aka "arm twisting") by an elected official or extraordinary leadership by a CIO to push an open data initiative forward.
Yelp, Code for America and the City of San Francisco are trying to standardize restaurant inspection data with the LIVES specification, an effort I applaud. But I predict this will be a slow slog - slow adoption - for the reasons mentioned above.
A second major reason apps contests are stupid is the lack of monetization. Apps developers need to eat, too, and put a roof over their heads and a Porsche in their garage. They're all looking to create that "killer app" which will be downloaded a million times at a $9.99 per download.
But how many apps created from hackathons or apps challenges or contests are monetized? How many of them are still active and downloaded and used?
My answer: few, very few.
Stumble safely, alas, is dead (just click on the link here). Most of the apps on Apps for Democracy and other apps contest sites are dead.
A few are living and continuing to develop because their creators are passionate about them (Living Voters Guide by Travis Kriplean) or they do have a monetized component (Seattle Emergency Radio by Brian Adams, monetized via advertising).
Another potential avenue for monetization is for a City/County/State government to take over the use, care and feeding of an app after an apps contest. That sometimes happens, but often can be a dicey proposition. Brian Ferris, a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington in Seattle, wrote One Bus Away, an extraordinarily innovative transit application to track, in real time bus arrival times without using GPS (since Seattle buses at that time had no on-board GPS). It has a 100,000 users each week. Brian now works for Google in Zurich, and the area’s four transit agencies are trying (and fighting with each other) on how to keep the app going.
Another possible solution to the monetization problem is offering prize money to encourage participation such as the $100,000 offered this summer by Battle Hack. When we did the evergreen apps challenge last year in Seattle, the three governments involved were able to offer some prize money funded by federal grants and local innovation funds. But that’s rare – taxpayers will quickly wonder why we’re offering money to hackers when potholes are still jarring their cars.
One potential exception to the hackathon/monetization problem is New York City. New York City has its “Big Apps” competitions, 8 million people, hundreds of thousands of businesses and innovative Mayoral leadership with Michael Bloomberg. It represents an “apps ecosystem” which might survive and thrive despite the other hurdles.
If most apps contests are stupid, where do we go from here?
I'm not sure how to get datasets standardized across 3000 counties and 18,000 or more cities and 50 states. Perhaps private companies such as Socrata, a premier provider of data catalog services such as data.gov, or a company which has monetized data such as CrimeReports.com can figure that out. Or - and this is a long shot - perhaps the Mayors' Innovation Task Force of the US Conference of Mayors would take this on, but I'm not holding my breath.
Perhaps an innovative state government will take leadership and build a data catalog with its cities and counties and standardize the data on the catalog. This presents a great economic development opportunity - think of all the startup companies in that state which might develop statewide apps, or mash up the government open data against data from other sources such as the census or sales data from, say, Amazon.
The second problem - monetization of apps - will be hard to solve unless and until data is standardized so a single app – a crime reporting app, for example – can be downloaded and used across an entire state or the nation with the potential for millions of users.
In the meantime, we’ll have to rely on the kindness of friends to the government community like Travis Kriplean, innovative leaders like Jay Nath in San Francisco and Mark Headd in Philly, plus the ongoing attempts to standardize data like GTFS and LIVES to carry us forward.
But proliferating these stupid apps contests sure ain’t going to do it.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.