Author: Alexis James

15 federal government mobile apps for citizens on the move

When USA.gov launched a new look earlier this year, it released a mobile apps showcase to feature federal agency mobile applications to help citizens in their everyday lives. Here’s 15 you shouldn’t be on the move without.

Health and sustainability

Alternative Fuel Locator

Alternative Fuel LocatorVehicles that run on alternative fuels, or a combination of alernatives and gasoline, are becoming more and more popular – just yesterday I saw a new Jetta converted to run on vegetable oil! I’m holding out till I can get an alternative fuel flying car. In the meantime one of the downsides to, say, electric vehicles or those that run on hydrogen, natural gas, propane, you name it, is that they can be difficult to refuel if you’re traveling. We’re not quite at the point where electric vehicle charging stations are as ubiquitous as gas stations!

That’s where this app comes in. Find places to refuel your alternative vehicle – no matter what type of fuel you use – while you’re on the go and perhaps not familiar with the nearest station. It uses familiar, easy-to-navigate Google technology to map fueling stations, list contact information and business hours, and provide detailed driving directions and an instant phone connection.

Now you’re free to take to the open road in your alternative fuel vehicle!


EPA Mobile Web

EPA Mobile WebWhat really caught my eye with this app was the easy access to “Greenversations” – which is the EPA’s blog. But the mobile capabilities are nice to have when needing easy access to details and news about our environment.

Though the details here are probably nothing a quick Google search couldn’t turn up, sometimes it’s nice to skip the middle man so to speak, especially if you know what you’re looking for!


Fuel Economy.gov

Fuel Economy.govSometimes it’s discouraging to know just how much of a carbon footprint you’re leaving behind. But it’s necessary to educate yourself about what your contributing so you can know what to do about it. This app helps you figure out just that – as it specifically pertains to your vehicle. The results might be cringe-worthy but the knowledge can help you take the steps to rectify what ever earth not-so-friendly habits you’ve picked up.

This is an especially good resource when looking to purchase a new car as you can easily asses what type of fuel economy, fuel costs, annual petroleum use, and the carbon footprint of your possible vehicle.


BMI Calculator

BMI CalculatorIt’s no secret that Americans are getting more and more obese. But this app helps prove that knowledge is power! It’s one of the most popular tools on the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Web site and provides a way for users to quickly and relatively easily get the information on their Body Mass Index (BMI) – is a reliable indicator of total body fat, which is related to the risk of disease and death.

In addition to that, the app provides links to healthy weight resources on the NHLBI Web site. So once you have the knowledge, you can actually do something about it. To be honest, I’m not sure I want the knowledge about my detailed BMI, but at least once I know what’s going on I can find healthy ways to address any problems that might be associated with my discovery!


My Food-ipedia

My Food-ipediaHere’s a conundrum: America is fast become an obese nation – yet many of us aren’t getting enough of the recommended food groups our bodies need. This mobile site helps you find nutrition information for just about every type of food you could consume! Cataloging the contents, calories, ingredients and so forth of over one thousand foods, this site gives you quick access to calorie amounts, contribution of a food to the five food groups, and number of “extra” calories in a fod from solid fats, added sugars, and alcohol.

It makes it easier to start of your journey toward healthy living by providing access to basic nutritional information. And if you’re already on the healthy living journey, the site can be useful for one-off inquiries about foods you’re about to eat or buy.


UV Index

UV IndexI often mistakenly assume that since I live in an often-foggy city like San Francisco I don’t have to worry as much about my sun exposure. Of course that’s a faulty notion and one that this site will seek to disabuse you of!

Simply enter your city or zip and the site will tell you how strong the sun will be in your area, what the index means how to protect yourself and so forth. I happened to check it today and it was a good thing I did – normally-foggy San Francisco had a UV index of nine today which is only one notch down from extreme exposure! Who would’ve thought?!

It’s especially useful as a mobile app so you know how much you need to cover up before heading out for your day.


General government

White House App

White House AppOne of the things the Obama administration vowed to do was create more governmental transperancy within the White House, and you can’t say they aren’t trying! In case Facebook notifications, Twitter updates and email alerts weren’t enough, you can access this app for the latest news from the blog and newsroom, featured videos and photos, and live video streaming of White House events with President Barack Obama.


USA.gov Mobile

USA.gov MobileThis mobile site makes it easy to access the important governmental information you’re looking for. Some mobile sites are tricky to navigate or make it difficult to find what you’re looking for on the mobile version, but this site is streamlined to help you access governmental data from a number of federal, state, and local government websites and contact your government by phone or email.


America.gov Mobile

America.gov MobileSlightly different from the USA.gov mobile site, the America.gov moile site provides mobile access to the State Department. They have a place for all the usual suspects like daily news updates, video segments and podcasts, but I think the thing it could be most useful for is the visa information it provides and the location information for various US embassies around the world. There’s been more than a few times while I was traveling when I’d wished for such easy access to embassies!


Government agencies

FBI’s Most Wanted

FBI's Most WantedIt’s likely that for most of us, under no circumstances will we be part of apprehending or spotting a wanted fugitive. That said, this app is epic! It’s simply the list of the FBI’s top ten most wanted but it’s still a pretty cool feature to be able to pull that list up on your phone with the ease of opening an app! The app includes the Top Ten Most Wanted, Most Wanted Terrorists, and Missing Children.

And if you do happen to have information on any of these cases, each picture has a link to provide the FBI with whatever knowledge on the fugitives. This application allows you to quickly identify Most Wanted criminals or missing children – which the average person could definitely find helpful.


FEMA Mobile

FEMA MobileIt seems like there are an endless number of jokes about how handy this application could’ve been years or even months ago, with various disasters, but it’s always best to be prepared and you never know what’s waiting around the corner. Really not trying to be a downer, but there’s no better time than the present to think about the future.

Plus, this mobile wesite for the Federal Emergency Management Agency does more than just provide advice and helpful information if you are in the middle of a crisis or natural disaster. The site also gives helpful information about how to be prepared for these situations and what to do to aid in recovery. To borrow from the Boy Scouts: be prepared! Don’t wait till you need this site to learn about how it can help!


Find Your Embassy

Find Your EmbassyI’ve mentioned how helpful I’ve thought it would be to have an app or a website that assists travelers with finding their embassies while abroad. I’ve never been in so dire a situation that I’ve needed the embassy (although I’ve been close!) but the smart move when you travel is to know where the embassy is in whatever city you’re traveling to. Again, it’s one of those things you need to know about before you need it!

So use and bookmark this mobile site, especially if you’re a traveler. Knowing where “home base” is while in a foreign country is crucial – but you likely won’t really need the knowledge until it’s too late to research it! Plan ahead and take a look around this mobile site.


NASA App

NASA AppAh, NASA. As a space brat whose dad worked with NASA and subsequently went into the space and satellites field in the Air Force, this app is probably my favorite and holds a particular power over me! The NASA app provides all kinds of news and information about the space program including videos and info on its operations – like the shuttle or the Mars rover.

But I can’t lie – one of the best things about this app is the awesome space images, pictures and photography. Oh, and you can plot the launch schedule too. And there’s info on the International Space Station. Ok – there are a lot of really cool things about this app and it’s perfect for space geeks like me or anyone else wanting to know more about the wild blue yonder.


U.S. Postal Service Tools

U.S. Postal Service ToolsIf you’re anything like me, you’re likely using post offices less and less. But when you need one, you need it ASAP: for things like sending birthday or holiday gifts, FedExing a lost rent check, or overnighting something your sister left when she came to visit.

This app helps ease your time of postal crisis by providing easily-accessible information on post office locations, collection boxes, pick up services, zip codes and more.


Veterans Affairs Mobile

Veterans Affairs MobileSometimes, waiting to answer an important question till you’re at your home computer just won’t cut it. When it comes to things like veterans benefits, healthcare, info for returning service members, their healthcare, mental care, education and so forth – you’ll need answers as quickly as possible. Which is why this mobile site is so crucial. Providing info and access to all these areas and more, the mobile site is easily accessible and gets vets the info on the services they need ASAP!


YourGOV iPhone app gets the 311, helps citizens report non-emergency issues

YourGov is a free 311 iPhone app from Cartegraph that helps citizens easily forward their observations and concerns to local governments. YourGOV users can submit issues — such as such as potholes, fallen trees, vandalism, and street light outages — complete with location, unique details, and photos. Once submitted, YourGOV will automatically deliver requests to the appropriate participating government agency.

Down YourGOV at iTunes or learn more from Cartegraph.

Screenshots:

YourGov for iPhoneYourGov YourGov YourGov

17 open data apps for San Francisco

Last year, San Francisco opened up its data stream to the general public, encouraging developers to integrate the data into applications, sites, and bits of information the public could use. Since then, there’s been more than a dozen applications to utilize the data and turn it in to apps that make residents’ lives easier in a number of ways ~ from finding the best public transit options, to figuring out how to dispose of that old camera. You’ll find all this info and much more within these apps.

Here’s a review:

The former news girl in me loves this data stream, but EveryBlock is more than just neighborly news. It’s everything you want to know about what’s going on in your neighborhood at a given time! The information presented is a bit hodge-podge (it pulled x-rays of someone’s hand that were posted to Flickr and tagged with the right neighborhood), but the fact that this app CAN pull all that data is amazing enough to make me not care that I might have to wade through some of the stuff I don’t care as much about.

EveryBlock features what calls to the city have been made recently, including 911 calls, businesses in the area, reviews of businesses and pictures. Plus, there’s a section where you can notify your neighbors – the option to create a missing pet particularly caught my eye as that could have come in handy when I lost my dog a few months ago (don’t worry – she came home safe and sound)!

Spot Crime is an enlightening – yet somewhat frightening! – app that shows you, day-to-day, where crimes have taken place. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad, but most of the reported crimes are assaults that have either been handled or were canceled before units were even dispatched. Spot Crime is interesting to look at and assess the relative safety of the neighborhood you live in, but chances are if you live there, you likely don’t need a map to tell you how safe/unsafe it is! I could see this being more useful if you’re looking to move and want to see what stats are in other areas. Or if you saw or heard about a crime and want to see what ended up happening.

There are a number of other different crime-mapping apps as well that pull similar data and offer similar services. CrimeSpotting is an interactive map of crimes while Crime Reports provides stats integrating Google maps, using the street level view. With this app, users can also create free accounts on the site if they would like to receive email alerts when crimes occur near their home or work. Your Mapper allows you to see the closest crimes to any address, and Crime Mapping is dedicated to helping San Francisco Police Department provide the public with valuable information about crime activity by neighborhood.

If you want to know how to keep yourself safe from a bad meal, check out CleanScores. Perhaps you have an idea of where you want to eat, but you’re not sure about whether you SHOULD eat there – y’know, because it might not be up to health code standard! Don’t lie, you know you’ve chosen or not chosen to eat somewhere at some point based off of the health code rating a restaurant received! This app goes beyond the rating card in the window and gives you recent information along with reviews – beware though, you may not want to eat at ALL after reading what some reviewers have to say about certain eateries!

Clean Scores is great if you know a place you want to try, but just want some clean, healthy data to make or break your decision. You can read all the reasons a restaurant may have received a violation and find out when their most recent inspection was.

But seriously, if you ever want to eat again, you may want to pass on reading some of the reviews!

If you’re a mom, you need more than a database of safe, clean restaurants at your disposal. Enter Mom Maps. Not only is the site design fun, inviting and cute (which, ok, isn’t necessary but sure makes the experience even better!) the app provides a valuable service to moms on the go. With this app you’ll find kid-friendly spots throughout the SF Bay Area, NYC, LA, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Boise and Hawaii. WHEW! That’s a lot of kid fun!

Whether you end up with a few extra hours on your hands, you’re looking for a great place for a play date, need to do something indoors/outdoors, or any one of a number of other possibilities, you can find a solution here! The app contains an extensive list of Parks, Playgrounds, Restaurants, Museums and Indoor Play Areas that are kid friendly and fun.

Put in your location and using GPS – you’ll see results which are close to you, plus a map to get you there. Pick from the above selections that are closest to you – or suit your preferences the best. You have a multitude of new and fun options for you and your kid at your fingertips!

From there, you can select from other great open data apps – like MuniApp, Rail Bandit, Dadnab or others – that will assist you with public transit or commuting options to get you to your kid-friendly destination.

There’s a number of apps that make your public transit experience a bit better, but sometimes you just have to drive. And there are apps to make this experience better as well, including the The Original Parking Locater. This app ensures that if you do drive ad park, you never lose your car again. The interface provides the ability to take photos of where you’re parked as well as enter different details to document specific land marks ~ like where exactly you need to enter the garage, or which one-way alley you parked down! Special integrated features for all the major Bay Area airports for flight schedules, airports services, parking fees & information, as well as security, roadside assistance and more.

Accessible Parking SF takes into account your basic needs when trying to get to point A to point B in the city: how to get there and where to park. Accessible Parking SF provides directions and then shows available parking spaces within a certain radius of your destination. The one thing that isn’t clear is how this is monitored and how the system knows if the parking spot will be available at a given time, or if the app is merely showing the spots in the area that COULD be available.

Either way, it’s worth noting that the app provides info on public, street and garage parking.

Commuting made easy. Well, easIER.

Dadnab has a funny name, but it’s a great app. Maybe you’re one of the few that don’t have a smart phone. Or maybe you’re trying to get home from the middle of nowhere without web access. Either way, if you find yourself offline and needing to get home – or somewhere else – this app can help you out of a jam! Dadnab uses text messaging to provide users with directions to and from their destination, so all you need is a couple bars of reception. The app allows you to select your area, then text your exact location and your destination. Viola! The app responds with public transit directions!

MuniApp gives you real-time data on all the various Muni lines including buses, trolleys and street cars. Locate nearby stops and their respective bus routes based on user location, or quickly navigate through the bus lines and stops to access prediction information. The nice thing about this app versus, say, the city’s NextMuni site is that you can see multiple lines at once without having to switch between lines.

iCommuteSF is powered by NextBus but goes deeper than that. In addition to providing the normal NextBus service of finding when your desired line is coming, it also provides a GPS location device that will point you to the nearest stop based on your location, if you’re not sure how to get around. You can also save your most frequent commuter lines into your favorites for easy access. iCommute SF Lite is also available for free.

If you’re looking to make trip planning easier, you might also want to check out TransiCast for the Android which provides real-time departure information for major metro lines, iBART which uses BART’s real-time arrival feed to display upcoming arrivals, and Transit Time Map shows how far you can travel on public transit from a given location in a certain amount of time which is a “baby step towards helping you find a walkable, transit-friendly place to live so that you can ditch the zero (your car) and get with the hero (your new walkable condo near a light rail stop).”

I’m grateful I live in a city that has relatively decent public transportation options. What makes it “relatively decent” and not “stellar” has a lot to do with what it takes to plan a trip – problems the BART Arrivals and Rail Bandit apps are hoping to minimize.

BART Arrivals focuses on the BART system, tracking train arrival times in real time as well as providing system alerts. The app utilizes Netvibes, iGoogle, Apple Dashboard, Vista Sidebar and Opera, simply select the station where you’re waiting and you’ll see the next incoming trains and their destinations. It’s like the city’s NextMuni site, but a much more convenient mobile app and serving the BART system.

Rail Bandit does something similar for train schedules and also provides BART arrival updates as well as updates from Muni trains, Caltrain and ACE trains. These updates are aggregated into a single network. This app enables the user to select the train lines they are interested in, then the corresponding schedules are downloaded and stored locally on the phone.

I wanted to give special recognition to Transit Bay, which gives blind or vision impaired BART travelers the ability to ascertain real-time departure times of the trains they’re waiting on. The app relies on voice recognition software and the person simply tells the app their departure station and the app’s speech synthesis will respond with all real-time departure trains from this station. It will also tell you any BART system service advisories. Access is free to the platform and can be done in numerous ways: – by Skype phone – by SIP phone – by Inum phone.

I don’t even remember when we had to use those crazy fold-out schedules, and hope and pray the times were right and things were running on time. Thank goodness for up-to-the-minute data integration or public transportation could be a lot more inconvenient. At least if you’re going to have to wait for a train, you’ll know it ahead of time!

4-Star Tweets

National Guard When I saw this article by Air Force General Craig McKinley (@ChiefNGB) about why he tweets, it got me thinking about military transparency. They are, after all, a huge part of the government — I should know, I grew up military, with a dad who’s still serving.

While I was visiting my parents over Thanksgiving, he was excited to show me a new recruiting video featuring some of his people, in a real-life scenario where they stop a piece of debris from colliding with a satellite. My dad doesn’t tweet, but the fact that he was excited about a video showing the real inner-workings of what we monitor in outer space suggested to me something beyond pride in his team. It dovetails with one of the reasons General McKinley gave for his tweeting habit:

“The young men and women joining the service today don’t know what the world looked like before Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter. They are transforming the way we do our work. As a leader, if I am not personally engaged in the communications evolution, then I cannot expect the organization to follow.”

Considering that national defense is the largest recipient of our tax dollars, I say it’s about time we got a little transparency. I also like General McKinley’s take on what some would say are the security issues involved when social media comes so close to classified information. He says this type of interaction with the public is necessary, and not going anywhere, so he tells the tech folks: “Figure it out … Some of the brightest minds in the country are focused on securing our networks and lowering this risk. I am confident they have the skills to both empower users and protect critical systems and data.”

Hopefully as change trickles down through the government, more people will begin identifying with McKinley’s school of thought. And maybe one day I’ll even see my dad on Twitter …

What’s Gov 2.0’s return on investment?

I work in online marketing and social media for my “day job,” and we are endlessly consumed with how to measure returns on investment (ROI) in the Web 2.0 space.

There are similar issues with measuring Gov 2.0 ROI. You can involve yourself in all sorts of efforts — publicizing data, engaging in social media, utilizing email campaigns, encouraging questions, fostering transparancy. And all these things are great, but (just like with our marketing clients) someone’s got to answer for the bottom line. With governments tightening their belts and funding being cut, showing that investment in government transparency pays off is crucial.

The things is, there are no easy answers. A post from openSF (Measuring ROI of Gov 2.0 Efforts) highlights a few ways in which various social media efforts actually SAVE money, including:

  • Vivek Kundra quantifies value in dollars
  • Gavin Newsom notes the cost-savings of using Twitter (free) for 311 vs a SMS provider ($100K)
  • Edwin Bender, executive director of followthemoney.org, in a conversation sites legislative change through the use of their data in two Supreme Court cases
  • MAPLight.org (money/vote connection) highlights the use of their data in media to help promote accountability

The truth is, this space is so new, relatively speaking, there aren’t a set of cut-and-dried rules that apply across the board when determining what counts as making a worthwhile investment. There may never be. The flip side of this conundrum is that we can be a part of helping to determine ROI. We, the people, have the burden to prove its relevance and importance. And as the several examples above prove, once you get creative and put your mind to it, it may not be that hard after all.

Questions:

  1. If you’re involved with an agency that places importance on transparency, why do you think they place an importance on such?
  2. What are some ways your agency “proves” the worth of its Gov 2.0 efforts?
  3. Have you discovered any unique, cost-effective ways to spread information?

GovFreshTV and me

GovFreshTVAs the newest member of the GovFresh team, I wanted to take a minute to introduce myself. I’m going to be working on all things related to GovFreshTV including shooting, producing, hosting, and generally running around related conferences/workshops/barcamps/etc like a madwoman, with a Flip video camera dangling off my wrist (or in front of my face)!

I come from a background as a live TV news producer ~ but that seems like a lifetime ago. When I got burnt out on the restrictions, crazy hours and low pay of the network news industry, I went to work for then-startup Current TV … securing myself another bout with crazy hours and low pay! Currently, I work in the online marketing/social media space and for several years now have harbored a love for and engagement with political causes and issues.

Luke is a longtime friend of my husband’s and when I heard about GovFresh, I knew I had found another niche for myself. Having a camera in my hand again – whether I’m behind it or in front of it! – is a good feeling, and the work I’ll continue to do with GovFreshTV brings together some of the things I love most: social media, web 2.0, gov 2.0, politics and – to get back to my earlier roots – TV production.

As we move forward with GFTV you’ll be seeing a lot more one-on-one interviews with people in the gov 2.0 space, exploring various aspects of the movement and what the ideas of governmental transparency mean.

If you have any suggestions about people you want to see interviewed, questions you want answered, or anything else … feel free to email: alexis@govfresh.com.