US Government gets into the mobile application business

In an effort to appease the changing information consumption habits of its citizens, the Obama Administration this past holiday weekend launched an "app store" of its own, featuring 16 apps on a variety of subjects. While some are mobile websites available for any mobile phone, others are actual apps intended for a specific platform such as BlackBerry, Android, or iPhone.

It should be noted that many of these applications are not new: most have been available on an agency or department's website for some time now. The Administration decided that building a centralized location for them would increase visibility.

Most of the apps are extensions of a particular branch or agency of the US government, such as Veteran's Affairs or NASA. However a few seem aimed at a particular initiative, such as the Body Mass Index calculator or an alternative fuel locator.

While the currently listed apps as of Tuesday were all free, the site said a small fee could be charged. The move signals an acknowledgement on the government's part that consumers are increasingly looking for information while mobile.

Eventually over 100 apps could become available. A spreadsheet on USA.gov listed 109, however some appeared to not be intended for public use and likely never would be listed. More could be added if the Administration decides to promote third-party developers using open government data in their own applications.

The "app store" was part of a bigger redesign of USA.gov that occurred just before the holiday weekend. The site, which acts as a clearinghouse for online government information, had not seen a redesign in nearly a decade.

The redesign is aimed at making information accessible. "[The previous design] was essentially just a collection of links with a bunch of pictures thrown up there," Federal CIO Vivek Kundra said. "It has been engineered, unfortunately, for the bureaucracy rather than the American people."

The new site will also make use of Microsoft's Bing search technology, somewhat unusual considering governments typically try to stay agnostic when it comes to supporting one company over another in the public's eye.

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