Ok. I admit it, I suggested some government iPhone apps. Was I serious? Sure. But let's be clear. There is a long long way to go, and some easier things to do before we ought to be pushing the envelope. Maybe we should worry about putting some more basic city documents online first.
Probably a good time to answer the question nobody really tried to answer. I asked who 'this person' is. The answer is that was Smithfield. As in 'Ask Smithfield'... who was the gateway on the City of Pittsburgh's web site more than a decade ago. He was suppose to be the answer person. I don't know if they actually used the technology of the 'Ask Jeeves' web search engine some may remember, but that was the idea. Smithfield was going to be the online gateway to help you get all your city questions answered and access city data. It was window dressing at best. Let's not waste time on window dressing if it does not address the real need. The potential there that the public will be confused and think this is progress. In other words:
Do not get distracted by the bright shiny object!
Are we ahead of where we were a decade ago? In some ways yes, but in an lot of ways no which is remarkable given the tech base here and the sheer change in IT everywhere. The county put some campaign finance material is online for sure (what was that? last month?). But there is a lot more to do. Now granted some of the documents I want are not what the public would want, but are probably more important to have out there than some iPhone gimickry. Why are the only pension reports and bond prospectus available online from me?** That makes little sense. I bet the city owns a scanner somewhere. One of those summer interns could put all sorts of stuff online with no incremental cost.
This is a true story... and I will say as a disclaimer it's not reflective of anyone working on Grant Street these days to my knowledge, but I honestly once had a face to face conversation with a city official that went like this.
Me: Can I get a copy of X?
Response: We don't have money to maintain a library available for requests like that, but if you were able to provide such funding I could help you.
I am sure it was meant to be funny, but it was not meant as a joke. I didn't get the report. A very public and statutorily required report by the way. I thought the response so great that I left with a smile though. Unfortunately it's not the funniest such exchange I have ever had like that.
So I guess I could now get that same response via an iPhone. Maybe with some musical background as well. Cool.
OK.. I'm sorry. I am sure everyone is well intentioned. But eGovernment and digital citizenship is something more than this. A colleague who has since left town has done an awful lot of work in eGovernment while here and for the more academic researchers he is also the editor of the Journal of Information Technology and Politics which has a lot of articles looking at the nexus of technology and citizenship.
* What happened with iJustine by the way?
** Muni bond prospectus' used to be quite a pain to get individually. At least a lot harder than general corporate financial filings. That has recently changed. But the point is still there.