Continuing my sequence of blog posts about the Knowledge Hub, the new and innovative community and collaboration platform for the UK public sector. I am devoting this post to the Knowledge Hub’s “App Store” facilities that will get delivered in the next development phase (no dates yet, but potentially around Sept/Oct 2011).
I think maybe a pause here for a definition as to what an “app” is and how this might differ from a ‘widget’ or a ‘plug-in’.
“App” is an abbreviation for application. An app is a piece of software. It can run on the Internet, on your computer, or on a mobile platform, such as a smart phone or tablet device (e.g. iPad). Apps have become synonymous with Apple’s iTunes App Store, where proprietary apps can be downloaded for use on any Apple product. Platform/device independent apps can be accessed from the Android Market.
Web-based apps (device and software independent apps that are accessed and run from the ‘Cloud’) include Google Apps,. Common applications include calendars, webmail and on-line documents. Web applications are popular due to the ubiquity of web browsers. The ability to update and maintain web applications without distributing and installing software on potentially thousands of client computers is a key reason for their popularity, as is the inherent support for cross-platform compatibility
A “widget’ is software that can be embedded into an app, or in the case of a Web Widget it can be installed and executed within a web page. A widget is usually tied to a platform, such as an iPhone widget.
A plug-in is a set of software components that adds specific abilities to a larger software application. Plug-ins are commonly used in web browsers to play video, scan for viruses, and display new file types. Well-known plug-ins examples include Adobe Flash Player and QuickTime.
Knowledge Hub will support apps, widgets and plug-ins, but for the purpose of this post, I will use the generic label ‘apps’ to include all of these varieties.
All apps on Knowledge Hub will conform to the OpenSocial standard, which has been supported by a number of vendors, such as Google, MySpace, Yahoo!, IBM, Oracle, Saleforce.com, Ning, Plaxo, XING, Six Apart, LinkedIn, to name a few. This means that that the app will be interoperable with any other social network system that supports this standard. This is part of the underlying “open standards” design philosophy for Knowledge Hub, which is positioned as an “open” alternative to the Facebook Platform.
Why is any of this important? Well if you’re not one the several million smart phone users that are accessing and downloading the million or so apps available from the various app stores, then maybe you’re not aware of what the fuss is about. This is clearly a growing market – some analyts are quoting growth of over 70% for this year alone.
For the public sector it offers new and exciting ways of delivering products and services at a fraction of the cost of traditional channels (e.g. online transactional websites). Opportunities will be fuelled by the growth of publicly available government/local government data (Open Data). This offers a number of models that can be exploited by users of the Knowledge Hub, e.g.:
downloadable mobile or desktop apps – Apple-style app store approach. These apps can make use of externally hosted datasets registered on Knowledge Hub, datasets uploaded to and registered within Knowledge Hub and external datasets not registered on KHub.
hosted web apps – runs on a server somewhere and the user logs into it via a browser. Knowledge Hub could in principle provide hosting capabilities for this kind of web app as part of a ‘premium’ service to the sector, but demand for this sort of facility will need to be tested with users and stakeholders.
As with the majority of the commercial app stores, Knowledge Hub will encourage users to rate and review the apps they download in order to identify the most popular apps.
The main benefits of the apps store can be summarised as follows:
Easy to use and trusted conduit of software.
Download model is widely understood by both consumers and developers of software.
‘Mashup’ tools will make it easy for apps to be built and shared by anyone.
Provides centralised control and value-add including commercial, security, access controls, digital rights.
Stimulates ideas for compelling new business scenarios and service innovation.
Though I’ve frequently mentioned mobile devices in this post, this does not mean apps are just for small screens. Newspapers and e-books have started to wrap their content in apps that come with additional features, hoping that it will allow them to charge for more things. And as other electronic devices—television sets, alarm clocks, e-readers and even electricity meters—become smarter and more connected, consumers will be able to download apps for these too. Perhaps, in the end, everything will have an app!
Some examples of where apps are being used in local government:
Scores on the Doors lets you and I see businesses’ and schools’ hygiene ratings by searching through its online database. You can check the hygiene ratings for any takeaways, pubs, clubs, schools, restaurants and food halls in your area (as long as your council is one of the 200 participating in this scheme!)
Smartphone owners can report graffiti, vandalism and anti-social behaviour in Wokingham thanks to a new app. The Looking Local app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch enables residents to use a ‘Report It’ feature to let Wokingham Borough Council about problems in their area.
Daventry District Council used location-based technology to improve refuse collection routes through better planned routes. This resulted in £223,000 savings from reduced mileage, less overtime, smaller vehicles and fewer rounds.
London Transport for iPhone – Real time journey planning, live departure boards, licensed taxi booking, wireless printing, bus stop timetables, nearby stops and stations, live traffic cameras, and more…
In a future post I will explain how apps can be developed using the Knowledge Hub’s “Mashup Centre“.
NB: Knowledge Hub is built and supported on the PFIKS Intelligus Platform
Stephen is Director and founder of Collabor8now Ltd, an organization focussed on developing collaborative environments (e.g. Communities of Practice) and the integration of knowledge management tools and processes to support business improvement. He is a certified knowledge manager with the Knowledge Management Institute (KMI) and the author of several published research papers on collaborative behaviours and information technology.