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Gov't App Contests Are Cool, But Are They Useful? 41

Posted by timothy
from the why-we-have-the-word-overweening dept.
theodp writes "In 2008, Washington, DC, launched one of the hotter trends in public-sector technology: the 'apps contest'. But even as more jurisdictions jump on the bandwagon, the contests are reportedly producing uneven results, and the city that started it all is jumping off the bandwagon. 'I don't think we're going to be running any more Apps for Democracy competitions quite in that way,' says Bryan Sivak, who became the District's CTO in 2009. Sivak calls Apps for Democracy a 'great idea' for getting citizen software developers involved with government, but he also hints that the applications spun up by these contests tend to be more 'cool' than useful to the average city resident. 'If you look at the applications developed in both of the contests we ran, and actually in many of the contests being run in other states and localities,' Sivak says, 'you get a lot of applications that are designed for smartphones, that are designed for devices that aren't necessarily used by the large populations that might need to interact with these services on a regular basis.' Sivak also cited maintenance of the new apps over the long term as a concern."
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Gov't App Contests Are Cool, But Are They Useful?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @08:03AM (#32482264)
    Then: "So let's have an app contest to design neat applications for smartphones!"

    Now: "Well it didn't work out because the apps were designed for smartphones..."

    NO SHIT
  • by al3 (1285708) on Monday June 07, 2010 @08:37AM (#32482400)

    I understand that government needs to concern itself with building things that help the most people, but opening up interaction with government so that user groups can define how they want to interact is a good thing. It's sort of like the long tail.

    If you create conditions where someone makes an app for smartphones (open government data), and it only gets used by people with smartphones, this is a net gain for the society. It didn't cost government what it would cost to develop from scratch, including the cost of coming up with the idea. The smartphone people interact with government in a way they couldn't before: the way they want to. This potentially lessens visits to brick and mortar offices and calls to support centres. It might cost something to maintain the app, but in the end it might be saving you money and serving more people.

    Let every small interest groups create their own way to interact with government, and you end up serving more people than you would have if you had just focused on a solution that helped the majority.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @08:51AM (#32482460)
    It is possible to improve a situation without improving all facets of the situation at once.
  • by stdarg (456557) on Monday June 07, 2010 @08:51AM (#32482462)

    Make it easier for the middle class is just as valuable as making it easier for the very poorest.

  • by justleavealonemmmkay (1207142) on Monday June 07, 2010 @09:29AM (#32482844)

    98% of "apps" in "app stores" are bullshit, that have the functionality of a web form, but that for some reasons were coded in a proprietary, non portable API instead of the ubiquitous xml-http-javascript-html-LAMP. The only reason I can think of is that "buying the app" is a kind of subscription service, for which subscription systems would work better. It doesn't explain the free apps.

    I mean WTF, a "New York Times" app? What can it do that a web browser cannot do ?

    The only 2% of apps that make sense actually use the terminal in a way for which web techs are not optimal: for its I/O capabilities (GPS, camera, phone...)

  • by Covalent (1001277) on Monday June 07, 2010 @09:29AM (#32482846)
    I am a teacher, and so I know this first hand: poorly designed rules result in poorly designed products. If smartphone apps are no good, then prohibit them. This has nothing to do with the designers or the idea of using a contest to design good software. This is about redesigning the rules to get what you actually want.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday June 07, 2010 @09:37AM (#32482912) Homepage Journal

    Here is the pulse. And here is your finger, far from the pulse, jammed straight up your ass.

  • by delinear (991444) on Monday June 07, 2010 @10:07AM (#32483256)
    The article seems to suggest that they save money by getting developers to do the work, with the aim of winning a prize, that would otherwise still have had to be done but would have been done by expensive contractors. In that case it's the opposite of a waste of money, you're saving money in the public purse that can be used elsewhere, to help those less privileged who wouldn't benefit directly from this initiative.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @11:58AM (#32484726)
    Hi honey! I was at the mall today and my favorite store had a sale on shoes. I bought $2.3 million worth of shoes for a mere $50,000. Sure, we can't pay the mortgage and I'm not sure where the grocery money is going to come from, but don't you see, I saved us $2.25 million! Oh, and the shoes are only theoretically worth $2.3 million, they were marked down to $50k because none of them match style, color or size, so nobody actually wants to buy them. But I saved us $2.25 million!

    It sounds like these apps weren't really all that useful. The stated worth is generated by some standardized metric, not the actual value to the government or its citizens. If it was such a great value, they wouldn't be discontinuing the program.

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