Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

Dumb Store

Apparently, not everyone has a smartphone! News to me.

Anyway, the Dumb Store is potentially very exciting, I think. Apps for ‘dumb’ phones – ie those that have limited ability to access the internet and the web.

They can be interacted with by sending SMS messages or making voice calls.

The SMS option is most interesting as it turns your message into a command line of sorts. So, for the Google Maps directions app, you text something like:

dir High Street, Peterborough to Letsbe Avenue, Dundee

and you then get a text back with the directions. Neato!

Apps are written in Ruby, apparently. Still, a potential step forward for making web services more accessible to folk without the latest mobile kit!

What might mobile democracy look like?

I’ve often said that the problem with participation in local democracy is that it just isn’t convenient enough. Meetings? Pah! I’m too busy trying to earn a living, quite frankly.

So mobile offers a really interesting opportunity. After all, the smartphones that sit in the pockets of an ever-growing number of people have a level of ubiquity that could make it work. You could also bring in some other recent developments (don’t say buzzwords) like gamification to further boost engagement levels.

Here’s an idea on how something could work.

It’s based on a pretty old e-democracy principle – e-panels! Rather than have a citizen panel of say 50 people, you develop an online group of hundreds or even thousands. Then you give them things to do, which are suitable to a mobile device.

The key to this is making the activities short, simple and reasonably interesting. If you look at the really popular games on smartphones, things like Angry Birds, Temple Run, World of Goo and so on, they are all games that can be picked up and played for a couple of minutes. They don’t tend to be long, drawn out strategic affairs.

So, some of the things that the mobile democracy app (or mobile friendly website…) could do might be to choose between several options. Perhaps something really blunt like “Libraries or lolly pop ladies?”; or between two images, one with a housing development in it and one without. Maybe ask people to take and submit a photo along a theme.

These aren’t referendums or anything like that, of course. But by regularly asking large numbers of people to respond, an organisation can build up a picture of what people think, which ways they lean on various issues.

By having a big group to work from, it wouldn’t matter if not everyone responds every time, and again, it’s about developing that database of people and their views.

Gamification might provide another way of increasing levels of participation – I’m always nervous about rewards – but perhaps leaderboards with badges would encourage people getting stuck in. There’s a danger that doing such things reduces the quality of responses – people would just respond with anything rather than thinking about it, just to get that top spot – but hopefully having large enough groups of people involved would minimise the impact.

I’d be interested in other people’s thoughts on this as always. Seen anything out there in terms of using mobile to promote and encourage democratic participation? Or perhaps you think I’m barking up the wrong tree?

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Galaxy Nexus

So, a couple of weeks ago I had an accident* and my iPhone broke for good. I needed a replacement, which gave me a good opportunity to assess the options.

It came down to the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy Nexus. I opted for the latter, for reasons I will explain. However, if someone were to ask me which is the best phone, I’d still say it’s the iPhone, hands down. But for my particular circumstances, the Nexus suited me.

So, why choose the Galaxy Nexus (GN from now on)? First of all, it’s the latest flagship phone from Google, designed to show off the Android platform at its best. It’s made by Samsung but to Google’s specification, and also features the latest version of Android, called Ice Cream Sandwich, unadulterated by any other crud that carriers or manufacturers like to install on Android phones.

I’m a heavy Google user, we use it for Kind of Digital’s email and calendaring, etc, and the integration with Android is excellent. The Gmail app on the GN is far better than the iPhone’s default mail app (certainly if you are a Gmail user, anyway). As email is by far and away the most used app on my phone, this is pretty important!

One of the other considerations was cost. I generally prefer to pay for my phones up front rather than get a subsidised phone via contract. By getting an unlocked, sim-free phone, I can shop around and get a better deal for me. I usually manage to make this pay for itself within a year. I managed to get the GN for a smidgeon under £400 – which is considerably less than an new unlocked iPhone 4S would cost.

In terms of apps, the Android platform is still way behind the Apple ecosystem. The market place, now called ‘Google Play’ – perhaps because of the emergence of other market places for Android – is still full of junk, and it’s too hard to find the good stuff. Also quite a few cool apps just aren’t available for Android yet, which is a real shame.

However, for my needs, the main ones are all there. There’s a NatWest app for banking, a rail enquiries app, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Twitter, Remember the Milk for to do lists, and so on. Pretty much everything I really need is in there.

Some thoughts on having used the phone for a few days:

  • It’s *just* too big. My hand aches if I use it one handed for any length of time
  • It’s thin – but almost too thin. I do worry I might break it
  • It’s light – the iPhone 4 and 4S have real heft. Despite its size, you often forget the GN is in your pocket
  • It’s the best keyboard I’ve ever used on an Android device, by which I mean it’s actually possible to use it without going insane
  • It has a really useful widget on the home screen that lets me switch things like wifi, GPS and 3g on and off as I need them without having to mess around in the settings – dead handy
  • I need to figure out how to get my iTunes library onto it so I can stop carrying my iPod around too

Overall, I’d say that the iPhone is the best handset you can get right now. As much as I like my GN, it’s not as nice to use as an iPhone and it lacks the app ecosystem. However, for my personal circumstances – particularly my reliance on Google’s platform – the GN works pretty well and I’m happy enough with it.

Dan wrote up his views on his Galaxy Nexus on his blog.

* I threw it really hard at the floor after having failed to send a text for the 16th time. I can therefore categorically state that I am worse off financially due to being digitally excluded.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • cpsrenewal.ca by Nick Charney: Mapping Internal Policy to the Hype Cycle – "I've been thinking a lot this week about how organizations issue policies to govern the use of new and emerging technologies."
  • The BBC Micro can still teach us a lot – "The BBC Micro taught a generation of teenagers the joys of programming. It's time to re-engineer such a revolution"
  • Amazon v. Apple « LRB blog – "Readers might be revelling in the lower prices they find on Amazon, but if the books they’re buying are ever less worth reading, it doesn’t seem much of a bargain."
  • What is Dart? – O’Reilly Radar – "Dart [is] an open-source project that aims to enable developers to build more complex, highly performant apps for the modern web."
  • MIT App Inventor – "To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a professional developer. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app's behavior."

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Playing with QR codes

I’ve been looking into QR codes recently – yes, I know, I’m somewhat behind the times – as part of some research I’m doing into how digital engagement can help in planning.

For the uninitiated, QR codes are square barcode-esque looking things, that when scanned, contain data such as a web address or indeed any other text string.

Though there are other ways of accessing QR codes, most people can do it using their smartphones, through an app that uses the phone camera. The app I use on my iPhone is Quickmark – there’s an Android version too.

(This strikes me as being a bit of a barrier to QR code usage, to be honest. Why can’t it be built into phones from the get go? Having to download an app – even a free one – will exclude a lot of people.)

Here’s an example of how I’m using them as a way of helping people get in touch with me. I’ve created a QR code that links to a site I have created with all my contact detail on it.

Here’s the QR code:

Contact Dave

The site it points people to is one I have created using Tumblr – this is because Tumblr automatically generates a nice mobile friendly look and feel if a smartphone is being used to access it – which is most people as I won’t be promoting it other than with the QR code.

I’ve just ordered myself some new business cards, which have the QR code on them – it’ll save people the hassle of typing my phone number in, if nothing else!

QR codes and planning

Anyway, what does this have to do with planning? Well, at LocalGovCamp in Birmingham the other week, there was a lot of talk of using QR codes on planning notices.

The way this works is that on the planning notices – usually attached to lamp posts and similar – people could read about the planning application and then scan the QR code into their phone, which would then bounce them onto the consultation site where they could air their views.

This seems quite a nice easy way of getting people to contribute. However, I suspect that getting people to the consultation site is the easy bit – you’ve also got to make sure that people can easily get involved once they get there.

So, if your planning consultation platform doesn’t play nicely with mobiles, then the whole QR code thing is probably a waste of time. You need to make sure also that what you are asking people to do is simple and suitable for mobile interfaces – making people read long documents or answer hundreds of questions won’t work either!

So, as usual, QR codes aren’t a solution – but I suspect they ought to become part of the answer.