Laptop keyboard with a feedback button

Mobile Gov crowdsources app feedback

Trying to develop mobile apps or websites for your agency is not easy, but it’s only half the game. It’s even harder sometimes to determine what users are getting out of the experience, or even how they will interact with your carefully crafted code.

Mobile Gov, made up of the folks at the General Services Administration who, with the help of experts in the government and private enterprise, are developing the Mobile Gov Wiki, has launched a crowdsourcing project to help agencies measure how well their apps and sites resonate with users.

The group started collecting data late last year with a survey base made up of the State and Labor departments, the National Library of Medicine and 15 other agencies. The idea was “to collect and develop mobile user experience guidelines/recommendations for agencies to use when developing and updating mobile products (apps, mobile web, SMS, etc.),” according to the Mobile Gov blog.

However, to cast a wider net, the group is crowdsourcing a mobile user experience survey, asking participants to rate the elements on a series of pages. The survey consists of questions covering issues such as  information architecture, language, content structure, trust/privacy, design and functionality. It shouldn’t take more than five or 10 minutes to complete. And the results could help agencies nail down metrics they need to keep improving their services. Take the survey and help government improve its mobile presentations.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Mar 11, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments


Screenshot from StackOverflow showing developer questions

Crowdsourcing makes up for lack of API documentation

Agencies have been releasing, and in some cases making use of, application programming interfaces, (APIs) the basic tools that developers use to make apps run on certain platforms and allow them to better implement an agency’s publically accessible data. It’s all part of the move toward mobile government.

Unfortunately, sometimes implementing APIs can be tricky, and the documentation is scant or just as often not there at all.

When I was learning to program in college, my teachers always tried to instill good documentation habits, but there was an underlying sentiment among the students that “if it was hard to write, it should be hard to understand.” One of my classmates even had that slogan on a bumper sticker, I kid you not. At any rate, the reality is that many companies and agencies have realized that the cost in work hours of producing complete documentation can be prohibitive, and many developers may consider documentation to be out of date and therefore not useful, according to an IEEE study.

The result is that much of the burden for documentation has been shifted to developers, who have started taking matters into their own hands by answering each others' questions about implementation -- sometimes  even starting a wiki about it. Basically, they’re crowdsourcing documentation.

A recent informal study by Ninlabs Research concluded that developers are getting as much as 50 percent of their API-related questions  answered from sites such as Stack Overflow and the Android Developer Forum.

Such “crowd documentation” may be a great help to your particular development needs, or you may in fact find the originator’s instructions to be fine. According to the Ninlabs survey, it is a coin toss as to which side a developer might fall, but crowdsourcing at least gives developers another option.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Mar 08, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments


Smartphone with lock and key in it

Mobile security: A password isn't perfect, but it's a start

In a recent global survey, computer security company MacAfee revealed some disturbing facts about the mobile device use of the general populace. The survey found that 36 percent of the people surveyed do not password-protect their smart phones or other mobile devices. While this statistic is frightening enough, I’m guessing the actual number is slightly higher because that figure represents the percentage of people who are willing to admit that they don’t protect their phones.

Of course, many government agencies already have a proactive mobile device management solution. They not only require authentication to access their data, but in some cases also can track or shut down any lost or stolen device under their management. Enterprise-level MDM solutions such as F5 Networks Mobile App Manager do the job of keeping work access completely separate from the personal data on a user’s device. So by not password-protecting your device, users are likely only hurting themselves.

If you are one of the 36 percent, do yourself a favor and set up password protection on your smart phone or other mobile device. And don’t pick “1234” or “password” or anything of those too-simple passwords that a lot of people still use.  Or use one of the gesture-dependent authentication features, such as connecting the dots or drawing figures on top of a photo. Some, like FixMo Secure Gesture, are actually better than a regular password.

The MacAfee survey also notes other practices that could put data at risk, such as that 30 percent of survey respondents “hide” their passwords information in a device’s notes app, where it could be easily found.

In addition to adding passwords, Robert Siciliano, an online security expert for McAfee, recommends other a few simple things users can do to keep the information on their devices safe, such as resisting the urge to click the “remember me” function on applications and websites and remembering to log out when leaving a site.

And agencies also offer help, including the Health and Human Services Department’s 11 steps for securing sensitive data and the Federal Communications Commission’s Smartphone Security Checker, a free app that serves up security checklists specific to the mobile operating system you have.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Mar 06, 2013 at 11:14 AM0 comments