This October marks the 10th anniversary of USA.gov, the nation’s search engine for government. And, as it turns out, now there’s an app for that. Nope, it’s not Apps.gov of even Apps.USA.gov. The General Services Administration quietly added a new USA.gov iPhone app to iTunes a few days ago. Why is it important? When American look for government information, they use search engines. While most of them go to Google and Bing, now they have another option when they fire up a smartphone.
The new app integrates access to a useful government dataset for citizens: a product recall database. The same access is available through a Product Recall app online, for Android or on mobile devices at Recalls.gov. That also means that citizens don’t have to have a smartphone to access public data, a issue for accessibility and the digital divide. For those inclined, the app also provides mobile search for local, state and federal websites, including predictive search.
The new USA.gov app is beautifully designed, lightweight and didn’t crash on me after ten minutes of searching and browsing. The integration of a “tap to call” feature with the iPhone on the home screen also preserves a handy “Gov 1.0” feature as well: 1 800 FED INFO.
As the app description in iTunes notes, the app makes public data like birth, marriage and death records freely available to all citizens (provided that they have an iOS device with an Internet connection). Search.USA.gov provides similar access on both mobile and desktop users, for folks who prefer a Web browser to an app. Information about schools, passport and visas, tax codes, government jobs and Social Security benefits is also available.
The addition of the USA.gov to iTunes ends a quiet but important lag in getting a free government app onto the world’s largest mobile application platform. When Apps.USA.gov launched, Apple apps were conspicuously absent. Months later, the legal difficulties between the feds and Cupertino appear to resolved.
As a result, parents can search the FDA database to see which toys have been recalled. While it’s true that analysts can (and no doubt will) point to the USA.gov app as the latest example of “shiny app syndrome,” making a better interface for open data is a win for everyone.