Creating Public Value through User-Generated Applications

Lovely web 2.0 iconsWith the success of the Obama campaign, governments are finally starting to talk about web 2.0 and how it can be used to improve services. In a recent essay, Bill Schrier, the Chief Technology Officer for the City of Seattle, presents ways in which government can use web 2.0 to create a better community and increase the effectiveness of government. In a follow up article, Schrier provides examples of governments already using web 2.0 technologies. These examples are encouraging, as I believe it is imperative for the public sector to keep up to date with the latest technology trends to effectively communicate and provide services for its constituents.

While the use of social networking and blogging is progress for governments, I believe this is only the first step in really utilizing web 2.0. The term web 2.0 means something different to everyone. When some people hear the term, they think Facebook, YouTube, etc. Others think of a distinct style in website layouts. Personally, I think an important piece of web 2.0 is that users add value to a product. Many use the term user-generated content, which is fine, but I think it is important that the content is actually adding value to the product.

So what exactly do I mean by this? Well, let’s consider a couple of the most popular web 2.0 applications – Facebook and YouTube. These platforms would be pretty worthless without any users. They rely on people adding content to the site. And not just any old content – they need content people actually want to look at. Without it, these sites wouldn’t exist.

The iPhone is another example of a very successful web 2.0 product. Now you may say, “Jon, it’s a phone, not the internet. It doesn’t count.” Well, okay, it is true it is a phone, but the principles of web 2.0 are still being used. Apple has clearly created a cool looking product that does nifty things; however, the most valuable part of the phone for me is the App Store. Think about it – Apple doesn’t make these applications. These are created by users that want to make some money off of them or want a mobile solution to something, and want to share it with the world. In either case, these applications actually add value to the iPhone. If it weren’t for cool apps like Pandora or Urbanspoon, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the iPhone. This same model is also used in Google’s new smart phone operating system – Android. Android actually goes a step further, as it is open source. While Apple is very picky with their applications, Google has allowed users to make any application they want.

So how exactly can governments encourage users (constituents) to add value to their jurisdiction by using these principles? One great example is from Portland, OR. In my last post, I talked about a cool iPhone application that helps find bus routes in Portland. The creator was able to make this application because Portland provides resources for software developers to better access TransitTracker information. It is worth noting the application developer never actually communicated with the City. He just went ahead and made the app. This is a perfect example of a city government using web 2.0 principles to create public value. The city provided the means, and the user provided the value.

I hope to see more governments provide developers tools to create useful applications. This can be scary for public officials, as governments are ceding some of their control over information, but in the end, I think the cooperation between government and citizens can greatly increase public value.

Originally posted at

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply