Sharon Cooper, from direct.gov, stopped by to comment on my last post on the Travel News App. Apart from confirming that the team are working hard to make changes in response to feedback [speedy response, and good to see], Sharon said:
We have a budget for apps and would welcome ideas on other apps that would make a difference to people.
So here are the apps that I think government needs to get working on for mobiles:
1. The Mobile 777 app
Matt alerted me back then to something he'd heard about a plan to create an 888 number - just like 999 but for those things that weren't emergencies. That might mean everything from a cat in a tree to a pothole in a road to a zebra crossing light being broken. Nothing has emerged on such a number and, try as I might, I haven't found anything that relates to it.
Now, imagine if the 888 service was web, phone, SMS text, DTV and kiosk integrated - so that no matter what level of income you had or what devices you had access to, there would be a way to get to it. People would report issues to the 888 service, all of which would be logged.
The output would be a colour coded map of your postcode, your street, your borough, your town or your county, showing the issues being raised in your area. So if a particular road had holes in it and the local people were suitably mad, they'd get together, contact 888 and the map would glow flashing red. The local council seeing that they had a community of interest that was on their case would despatch the road fixers. Take this a little further forward and say there's a 777 service (or maybe still the 888 one) that lets you express concern about fox hunting, people who wear furs, drink driving or whatever ... interest groups could drive their members and supporters to log their point of view via this service and rapidly drive up support (or ant-support) for any given issue.
The 777 service could be restricted to topics du jour, it could require authentication (using an anonymous token, as used in voting) to make sure that no-one voted more than once on any issue, for instance.
So I'd like one of those please, on my mobile phone. I'd like to be able to report abandoned cars by snapping a photo within the app and having it geotagged and sent to direct.gov where it would be routed to the right council and handled quickly; I'd like to be able to report a broken streetlight in a similar way - click broken street light and have the location automatically sent. I might even want to report graffiti on a wall by snapping a photo and sending it. The more people that sent a report on the same thing, the more likely it would be to get fixed.
The folks at fixmystreet have since done a lot of the leg work on this, a brilliant job - so maybe they get a bit of seed money to do this app too?
2. The iPhone Parking app, otherwise known as iPark
I don't have a car but I talk to enough people who do who are completely confused by the latest local government idea to have you pay for your parking by ringing a number and keying in all kinds of things, but only if you've thought ahead and pre-registered. So my iPhone (or Android or blackberry) parking application would first tell me whether I could even park where I was sitting in the car and what the regulations were about before and after 6:30pm (anyone who has tried to park on the border of Westminster and Camden will know what I mean) and then allow me to pay there and then, either in an iTunes like fashion with a simple debit, via my mobile phone bill or through my credit card number being entered3. The congestion charging app, otherwise known as iCongest (presumably on a d-phone it would be an d-congest)
Whilst I still am not driving, others do, and there ought to be a 1 touch app that pays your congestion charge right from your phone
4. The imill app (I am ill)
How about an app that told me where the nearest (open) pharmacy was, the nearest NHS dentist with spaces available, the nearest hospital, the nearest physio etc?
5. The myneighbourhood stats app
Again in 2003, I posted this
A great application, put online recently by the Office of National Statistics, lets you get details of your neighbourhood, drawn from the most recent Census. This is the first time this has ever been done. Sadly, despite it being great, I wonder whether it's a use once and forget application. People will be curious to use it once and see what's what, but then the next time they use it will be 6 years later (the average person moves house every 6-7 years). This kind of application though is what e-government is all about - you just couldn't do it without the web ... and yet too few people will likely find it and too few will reuse it. For direct marketers, statisticians and curious people though it will be a boon. I'm sure that the ONS folks are working on ever more clever uses of this data - imagine being able to trend the data from census to census, or over a 100 years and see how a neighbourhood has changed. Then think of what you could do with colour maps overlaid showing densities of different criteria. Clever stuff, nicely designed and bonus points for putting this online. Of course, because it wasn't available before the web, they won't get a tick in the box towards 100% online ... but you can't have everything.
I wonder if there is a market for a mobile version of this. Let's say you're looking at houses to buy, and you're standing outside a place that you really like. You want to know more about the neighbourhood - about schools and standards, about crime, about data from the 777 app above ... and you use this app and it gives you the key facts, like the CIA world fact book, but just for this area in , say, a radius of 1 mile from where you're standing?
One thing that struck me as I was thinking about these is that they're all essentially local apps. I don't have much need to think about tax, or benefits, or big central services when I'm out and about - I think those kind of things are best left to big screens and use at home or in the office. I'm going to have to think harder about what central government might put in a mobile app.