Sunday, December 5, 2010

Feeding our Growing Appetite for Apps

This holiday season millions of shoppers downloaded apps to stay at the top of their game on Black Friday. 2010 saw a dramatic increase in the role of cell phones as consumers used them to find the latest deals, scan bar codes to compare prices and products, and make purchases.  Thrifty shoppers were standing in line with product in one store while trying to get a better deal online from the store’s competitor.  At most major chains, just walking in the door activated a text message with special discounts and stores instantly added rewards to your account for visiting the store even if you didn’t make a purchase.

Apps are not just for holiday shoppers, they are for citizen consumers as well.  The explosion of users and uses for cell phones will soon be coming to a government near you.  With apps from the federal government <> , busy holiday shoppers can verify product safety before purchasing, pass time waiting in line by monitoring the status of their federal job application or touring the Library of Congress, then check the air quality before heading outside.

In Arkansas , holiday hunters can use Game Check for real-time game tagging or pay their property taxes without having to go to town. Government Technology reports that after only five months, the suite of mobile apps has become one of the Arkansas website’s most popular features.  Sportswomen in California can use Department of Fish and Game apps to locate nearby fishing spots or the closest place to buy a fishing license, while car buyers can use iSmog  to be sure the car they are purchasing will meet state standards.

City and county governments are tailoring apps to visitor and resident experiences as well.  Some are creating their own apps and many are using apps by other developers.  The Salem, MA Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs <>  created its own Haunted Happenings - 2010 travel and event guide for brave Halloween visitors.  Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in an effort to encourage use of public transit,  City-Go-Round </> provides real-time arrivals to waiting riders, but only if the transit service makes the data available.  Want more of a two-way conversation?  Now you can give feedback as well as get information.  Ten cities across the country are piloting and participating in development of YouTown, a relationship and communication app designed specifically for local governments.

So how are we doing in North Carolina?  It looks like local governments are leading the way in the Tar Heel state.  On City-Go-Round the site recognizes the high level of participation of transit authorities in the Triangle area.  MyCharlotte is widely viewed as a top-notch services and information product, and the app will soon be adding an avatar  and personal help-desk to guide residents and visitors. The Center for Digital Government and Government Technology just unveiled the 2010 list of digital cities , and I found a North Carolina city in the top ten for three categories.  Charlotte was number four in the nation for cities of 250,000+ population.  Winston-Salem showed up at number five on the mid-sized cities, and High Point was number five for smaller cities.  Here’s hoping for a top ten North Carolina City in the 30-75,000 category for 2011.

*Despite what the signature line says at the bottom, this post was written by Anne Cortes, Graduate Assistant at the Public Policy Institute at WCU  

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