Wiki allows agency mobile-app developers to share best practices

Thursday - 2/23/2012, 9:34pm EST

Gwynne Kostin, director of mobile, GSA's Office of Citizen Services & Innovative Technologies,

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Agencies across government have played their part in the mobile revolution, designing innovative applications to better engage with the public.

A government app "store" — apps.usa.gov — offers free downloads for apps offering everything from information about product recalls to travel tips from the Transportation Security Administration. The website recently added its 100th mobile app.

Now, government app creators also have a place to share best practices for designing mobile apps and how to truly align them with agency missions.

Gwynne Kostin, the director of mobile in the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services & Innovative Technologies, said there has been a definite "uptick" in interest lately by agency tech leaders in developing mobile apps that make sense for their agencies.

Kostin said the Mobile Gov Wiki can help agencies not only create apps but actually develop an entire strategy for doing so.

"How do we make sure that we're expending our resources in the most efficient way and that we're making some smart decisions?" Kostin said, while at the same time "building apps or mobile websites or mobile web apps or text-messaging services that (are) actually meeting the needs of our constituents."

Kostin acknowledged there is often confusion about the difference between the various iterations of mobile

There are four key elements that define mobility, she said:

  • Text messaging/short-message service (SMS). This is especially helpful for people who can't access the Web or have low bandwidth, Kostin said. She mentioned an app that HHS developed as part of a public-private partnership called text4baby, which allows women to receive free text-message tips about pregnancy and child care. "That's a way to kind of convey information to people in a timely fashion using, really, the simplest piece of mobile devices," she said.

  • Mobile website. A faster, smaller version of a website that has been optimized to provide content on a mobile device.

  • Mobile web app. It's basically a website, "but it's optimized for a single or a narrow type of purpose," Kostin said. "And so the idea for a mobile web app is that it's not the entire site, but it functions as an app, but it is not native to a specific device." A good example is the Government Printing Office's budget app, which presented a version of the fiscal-year 2013 budget optimized for a mobile experience.

  • Native apps. These are mobile web apps that built for a particular type of device, such as Android-specific apps or applications designed solely for the iPad, for example.
While agencies use apps in a variety of ways and for many different purposes, Kostin said the guiding impulse is in determining what would make the most sense for an agency's audience.

"You really need to get the audience — what you want them to accomplish — and your mission aligned," she said.

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