Beyond Civic Apps: Making All Apps More Civic

This was a difficult lesson to learn but eventually an increasing number of agencies got itit was more powerful to get their information in Google’s program than to have traffic to their site. Or, as Steven Van Roekel, then US CIO and former FCC managing director stated in 2011:”In an ideal world, nobody should have to see the FCC website.” To put it differently, helping all programs”be civic”, as opposed to simply building more civic programs. I believe there’s a whole lot of leverage there, and it is a direction that has only barely begun to be explored. Another, even more potent direction is the reverse: assisting authorities tap into the people-power in web networks. It’s incredible to consider how web-enabled networks can extend the reach and increase the leverage of public-interest programs and government services, even if (perhaps especially when) which isn’t their primary function. I.e., Waze is a traffic avoidance program, not a”civic” program. A couple of years back when I was working on the Civic Commons job with Code for America and OpenPlans, I did a demonstration at Living Cities called”Cities that Work Like the Internet ” which discussed with open standards and internet architectures to construct a base for open innovation. So in an ideal world, I would not only have the ability to receive my transit data from anywhere (say, Citymapper), I would have the ability to read restaurant review data from anywhere (say, Foursquare), be in a position to submit a 311 petition from anywhere (say, Twitter), etc.. These examples only scratch the surface of how programs can”become more civic” (i.e., incorporate with government / civic information & solutions ). And that is only really describing one direction: programs tapping into government information and services. The big idea in all of this is that through open data and criteria & api-based interoperability, it is possible not just to build more”civic programs”, but to make all programs more civic: Over time, a growing number of agencies started publishing their information in GTFS, attracted by the visitors that Google Transit saw. In effect, Google had established a”data magnet” — powered by their viewers and with a lightweight web benchmark: At the moment, we were doing plenty of work to progress the Open311 net standard, and had already done a whole lot of work around open transit information, including coordinating programmers to lobby NYC’s transit capacity to open their information and then building out NYC’s real-time bus information platform. Now, in 2013, it appears evident that transit agencies would release schedule, route, and real time information in a machine-readable format for developers to create apps with. But back in 2008 & 2009, it was really a massive struggle. There were two prevailing forces: 1) agencies not wanting to publish information in any respect, and going after developers who were scratching / using it anyhow and 2) very slow-moving internal discussions around the creation of an industry-led standard. Those two forces were sufficient to essentially keep the open transit info movement grounded. A little known fact outside the civic data world is what made open transit data work was an external force: Google. That data wasn’t only accessible to Google Transit, but also to anyone else that wanted to build with it.

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