Voice of America app via Google Currents

A free way for agencies to get the multimedia message out

Public-sector agencies maintain hundreds of Rich Site Summary (RSS) text-based feeds that periodically update with an organization's updated information -- press releases, blog posts or news headlines.  But with the growth of multimedia content and mobile browsing, agencies might want to publish their content in an enhanced package.

Google Currents is a robust, cloud-based and — most importantly — free way for agencies to update their information.

The app is available for iOS and Android (it’s pre-installed on many Android devices) and provides an easy-to-use interface for smart phones and tablets in which users can swipe their way through content as if turning through the pages of a magazine.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency responsible for such broadcasts as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, recently announced that it put all of its content on the Google Currents mobile platform,  giving its users a magazine-like experience. Because of the nature of its work, BBG’s feeds are delivered in 40 languages to a populace that’s increasingly mobile.

Addie Nascimento, BBG's syndication product lead who built all the BGG Current editions, said in an interview with Gov.aol, that syndicating content to Google Currents can be as easy as providing an RSS feed.

BBG says it’s planning to distribute content through other portals in addition to Google Currents, but for any agency looking to improve content distribution to mobile users, Currents is a free alternative seems to be worth considering.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Jan 17, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments


View of derecho storm front from a gas station parking lot

Derecho report: Agencies could avoid most 911 failures

Back in June a severe wind storm called a derecho blew through the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. It not only caused power loss to millions of homes and businesses, but it also created huge disruptions in 911-related communications, in some cases taking out emergency communications services for days.

The Federal Communications Commission spent the last six months assembling data from the region, and has now released its findings in a report  entitled “Impact of the June 2012 Derecho on Communications Networks and Services.”

In it, the FCC takes the affected agencies to task, calling such a widespread failure of communications “unacceptable.”

Aside from physical damage, the FCC said, most failures resulted “in large part because of avoidable planning and system failures, including the lack of functional backup power, notably in central offices.” Monitoring systems also went down, cutting providers off from network functions. Most of these problems could have been avoided if communications providers followed established best practices, according to the report, which includes recommendations on how systems can be improved to prevent such a widespread outage from occurring again.

Those include auditing of 911 circuits regularly, ensuring that central offices have backup power systems and having established reporting protocols for 911 outages. The FCC also touts the emerging Next Generation 911 services as a way to ensure more reliable service.

The report’s recommendations are instructive for any federal, state or local agency that provides emergency communications. Yet this won’t be the FCC’s final word on the matter. The FCC notes that, as the derecho report was being prepared, Superstorm Sandy struck, wreaking havoc in the Northeast. The agency will analyze the impact of that storm on emergency communications next.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Jan 14, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments


People checking cellphones

Need help building mobile apps? GSA can help.

Agencies looking for a little help in developing mobile applications can get more than that from the General Services Administration.

The Mobile Gov Blog, put out by GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, is a handy resource for any government mobile developer or implementer, highlighting success stories while giving government IT the tools it needs. Just before the holidays the site posted its list of Mobile Gov resources for the coming year.

The site does a really good job gathering resources in many areas of mobile device implementation. I found a few things of particular interest. There are several links dedicated to the development and use of application programming interfaces, which I recently discussed. But for developers familiar with APIs, this Mobile Gov post has links showing how best to use them.

Those unsure about whether to go with a mobile app or a mobile website can find an excellent seminar explaining the differences.  Also covered are responsive design, Web apps and native apps. There are resources for open content management, the mobile-first strategy and, of course, basics on app development for the four leading mobile platforms -- Android, BlackBerry, iOS and Windows.

Agencies working on their a mobile strategies as well as site and app developers will find useful resources here.

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