10 gov Web apps that get results

These 10 great agency Web applications combine innovative ideas with new media to produce effective civic engagement.

Project: Justice Department’s Action Center

Agency: Department of Justice

How it works: The Action Center activity box lists tasks that visitors can perform across Justice sites, such as report a crime, find a job, apply for a grant or find a form. It appears on the majority of new Justice.gov pages, and the box travels with visitors as they move on the site.

Find out more: How to get results from Web site action centers

The push for open government and public engagement has intensified the spotlight on the Web, affecting the way federal agencies communicate with one another and interact with the public.

During the past two years, GCN has focused on highlighting 10 great government Web sites. The rise of social networking in 2009 prompted the smarter agencies to establish a presence on Twitter, Facebook and other sites. The previous year — GCN’s first list of 10 great government Web sites — reflected the realization that the Web can be the primary form of interaction with constituents.

Related stories:

A renaissance of government Web apps

Great dot-gov Web sites 2009

Great dot-gov Web sites 2008

For this year's list, we focus on 10 great Web applications and the innovative ideas and approaches that gave birth to them. Many of the applications attest to the push toward more open government and transparency.

This is not a definitive list of the 10 best. What follows is a compendium of 10 Web apps or Web-centric ideas that are great examples of how agencies can achieve open government and public engagement though new media.

Click through the following pages to see 10 government Web apps that really get results.


Project: Twitter Earthquake Detector

Agency: U.S. Geological Survey

How it works: It's not scientific data, but USGS has found that tweets spread faster than the agency's alerts. TED taps into the Twitter API and searches for keywords such as “earthquake.” It then pulls and aggregates the information, including photographs, providing USGS scientists with a map based on the number of tweets coming from a geographic area.

How to participate: People can receive earthquake data from the @USGSTED Twitter account. The site sends maps of earthquake zones to account holders.

Find out more:  Earthquakes are something to tweet about

Interior Twitter map

Project: 2010 Earthquake in Haiti

Agency: State Department

How it works: The response page puts information about the earthquake relief effort in one place, featuring a steady stream of updates, including a photo gallery, briefings and remarks, interviews, details about high-level diplomatic visits to the stricken nation, White House and government press releases, and conference information. As a part of the main State site, the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti page also includes alerts and warnings about traveling to the country.

How to participate: People and vendors interested in providing services to the U.S. government for profit can find a link at the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. On the more personal side, the Haiti relief page has links to services for people trying to contact friends and U.S. citizens in Haiti at Haitiearthquake@state.gov.

Find out more:  State site puts Haiti relief efforts in one place

State Department Earthquake in Haiti website

Project: Apps for Healthy Kids

Agency: Agriculture Department

How it works: Here's a game kids can win: USDA challenged developers of software tools and games to create fun and engaging apps and games to drive children to eat healthy foods and live more active lifestyles using the USDA Nutrition Dataset.

How to participate: Judging by the panel and public voting began July 14 and continues through Aug. 14, 2010, when the submissions will be on display on the Apps for Healthy Kids Web site.

Find out more:  Apps for Healthy Kids gives them a game they can win

Apps for healthy kids

Project: Puget Sound and watershed management wiki

Agency: Environmental Protection Agency

How it works: A lot of people are involved in watershed management, from federal state and regional organizations, as well as individuals. Until now, though, there wasn't one place where they could share expertise. EPA's Watershed Central wiki provides a way for users to submit, edit and share information and best practices and find other people and organizations involved in watershed management. It's the agency's latest use of a wiki since it's successful Puget Sound experiment three years ago.

How to participate: Log on to the Watershed Central Wiki

Find out more:  EPA puts wikis to work on ecosystem support

Puget Sound water site

Project: Global Pulse 2010

Agencies: U.S. Agency for International Development (lead) with assistance from the Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, and State departments

How it works: Global Pulse 2010 offered the international community an opportunity to voice opinions, share ideas and come up with innovative solutions to social issues that the world community faces in the fields of science, technology, entrepreneurship and human development. USAID used IBM’s Innovation Jam technology, which sifted through the data and conversations, extracting main ideas and themes from 10 forums, each hosting hundreds of topics and conversations taking place.

How to participate: Join the continuing discussions on the Global Pulse 2010 Facebook page

Find out more:  USAID leads a 3-day online jam on social issues

Global Pulse site

Project: Library of Congress photostream

Agency: Library of Congress

How it works: By putting some of its collections on Flickr, LOC gives the public access to thousands of historical photos, and has benefitted from the public response. This input provides the library with additional information about the photographs, which enriches the catalog. Visitors have updated 1,700 records using the Flickr Commons Community as a source. Since its launch in 2008, the site has had more than 25 million visitors and averages more than 700,000 views per month.

How to participate: Explore the photos and add your tags, favorites and comments to the Library of Congress' photostream

Find out more:  Library of Congress finds a two-way street on Flickr

Library of Congress photostream on Flickr

Project: Pillbox

Agency: National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine

How it works: By following prompts to submit descriptions of pills, emergency responders, medical personnel and the general public can narrow down from a list of thousands of drugs to identify the one they have in hand, with a clinical description of the drug, the information on the FDA label and, often, a high-resolution photo of the pill. Pillbox's data, images and search are exposed through an API, allowing developers to create applications such as voice-activated pill ID, iPhone apps and even a Facebook game.

Find out more:  Site takes the guesswork out of identifying pills

NIH Pillbox site

Project: OpenGov Tracker

Agency: NASA

How it works: Two NASA developers tracker took all the ideas for how to meet the Open Government Directive and put them in one place: OpenGov Tracker. The site highlights agencies with the most or least ideas, votes or comments. NASA topped the list with the most ideas (470), votes (4,747) and comments (700). Those with the least ideas, votes and comments were organized in another category: Needs More Love. The developers accomplished the task on their own time using their own server on the NASA Nebula cloud computing platform. In addition to using IdeaScale’s application programming language, open-source software formed the project's foundation.

How to participate: Use your voice, get involved, submit your ideas.

Find out more:  OpenGov Tracker puts the best open-government ideas in one place

Open Gov site

Project: Summer Travel Widget

Agency: Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection

How it works: Going somewhere this summer? The Transportation Security Administration developed the shareable Summer Travel Web widget in conjunction with the Customs and Border Protection agency to provide travelers with easy access to helpful travel tips.

Find out more:  Widget provides one-click access to travel tips

TSA Widget

Project: TV Converter Coupon Box Program

Agency: National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Commerce Department

How it works: Congress charged NTIA with the task of ensuring that 21 million households moved to all-digital TV sets. NTIA came up with a plan to offer owners of analog TV sets coupons that they could use to buy digital converter boxes by June 12, 2009, when all broadcast stations would go digital.

Find out more:  Commerce agency smooths transition to digital TV

Digital TV conversion site