Public Sector Tech Incubators (They’re real!)

Web development moves fast, exponentially so. It’s hard to keep pace. But with change comes opportunity.

To lead the charge in web-based innovations, and to capitalize on their utility, requires an environment that is equal parts imaginative and assertive. It’s been proven again and again that small-to-medium sized technology incubators are one of the best means to create substantive innovations in web-development. Looking at the larger picture, these same principles can be found at play in the public sector. When considering web-responsiveness in national governments, it’s interesting to note how huge economic powerhouses often lag behind the adaptability and responsiveness of smaller nations.

No nation illustrates this fact better than Estonia.

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The term ‘E-Estonia’ isn’t new. The moniker has been used for well over a decade and it couldn’t be more apt. Today, Estonians vote and pay their taxes online with remarkable efficiency. Citizens are pleased with these services, and governments the world over have taken note. In fact, starting next year, this nation of less than 1.5 million residents will be offering ‘e-residency’ for tourists. Indeed, this web-based ‘residency’ is such a modern offering that there are few existing programs to even compare it to. But the gist of this ‘e-residency’ is that it will allow tourists and other brands of non-Estonian residents to utilize public-sector services offered by the Estonian government.

How such a concept as ‘E-Residency’ could evolve is anyone’s guess. Hopefully it will lead to greater efficency in the general relationship between ‘resident’ and government services. This could even be the beginning of a highly-effective digital means of promoting tourism and attracting new business. Indeed, the end result of such innovations could be greater efficiency and even significantly less expenditures for governments the world over.

Meanwhile, back Stateside, we see innovations in our public sector’s web development mostly at the state and local level. There are countless examples of state governments and/or municipalities leading the way with new web-based services. Not all of these innovations prove themselves successful. After all, each new web-based service needs to offer genuine utility and ease of use (easier said than done!) But using state and local governments as mini laboratories to learn ‘best-fit’ public sector solutions can be a great resource.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, the city of San Francisco is one municipal government that is actively testing new web-based solutions. The city is already over a year into its effort to bridge the gap between innovative online offerings and now-outdated government services. Of course, San Francisco’s Entrepreneurship in Residence program is just one noteworthy example of how governments can work towards updating their services and fostering civic engagement by adopting modern web standards.

In short: larger, more slow-moving government bodies would be wise to play close attention to development experiments such as Estonia’s ‘e-residency’. Projects such as e-residency may offer us a glimpse into what might be much more commonplace in the future. If we learn as much as we can from these experiments, we may save ourselves a lot of headaches (and money!) as we avoid the rough patches they are sure to illustrate on their development journey.

What say you, dear reader? Do you have any examples of how small governments are innovating web-based public sector services?

Apple Pay Development

Digital-Wallet-Just like how your office has gone (mostly) paperless, your wallet may soon go ‘plasticless’ as well. Slowly but surely, credit cards and IDs are being replaced by apps. Of course, like the paperless movement, this migration will likely be a slower process than advertised. That said, innovations such as Apple Pay are paving the way assertively.

Apple Pay is essentially a digital wallet. The application stores your credit card data and can be accessed with a touch, utilizing fingerprint Touch ID. You can send payments, check your private data, or even simply flash your phone across an Apple Pay enabled checkout reader. You’ll even be able to use your Touch ID fingerprint to pay within apps. The video below provides some great visual examples.

Passbooks, an app that stores tickets, coupons, boarding passes and essentially any items with a barcode, is a helpful tool in its own right. Seamlessly adding Apple Pay’s functionalities with those offered by Passbooks’ makes for quite a package of services. Indeed, these offerings, taken together, open the door to leaving the home without the wallet.

Of course, there are two major drawbacks to a digital wallet. The first concern of these concerns is the issue of limited battery life. But this problem may be mitigated sooner than expected due to some amazing new innovations that will allow your cell phone battery to charge in three minutes or less. And, if reports are accurate, this new battery will help your phone hold its charge longer as well.

Ok, great. It’s convenient. But what about security, the second major drawback to consider.

Apple Pay uses tokenization, which essentially replaces your actual credit card number with a randomly generated number every time you use it at a new retail or online establishment. That new number can be configured to expire after one transaction or made specific to a certain type of transaction (like Uber fares, let’s say). Which means that when data breaches occur like the ones Target and Home Depot experienced recently, you’re safe. There’s no credit card info to steal and reuse.

This also removes a huge burden from sellers – and developers :).  Since a person’s credit card number never even enter a POS or online payment system, they don’t have to worry about storing credit card info–which can potentially be hacked and stolen. It still won’t be perfect, but instances during which you feel the need for a physical wallet may be less common than we’d expect.

In short, it’s not at all unreasonable to look at Apple Pay as a major step towards the future of transactional commerce. It might not be long before we add our physical wallets to the long list of ‘items replaced by our cell phone’. This transition is going to be interesting to watch. And there will continue to be hiccups along the way. But developers will continue to prove that we can safely walk out the door with only a cell phone weighing down our pockets (or purses).

Maybe our keys are next?

The Gamification Effect

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Can our web browsing and web-based tools be a game?

Yes.

In fact, more and more websites and applications are intentionally built like a game. These sites and tools are designed to foster engagement; not unlike a puzzle, they push you towards a ‘next piece’ or a ‘next step’. At it’s broadest definition, a game only requires a set goal (and achieving that goal should, ideally, involve an engaging experience) That the ‘gamification’ of our web-based activity is purposely built to be easy and intuitive is beside the point: we’re successfully convinced to play.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled: Free Sandwiches. In this post I considered the many amazing innovations in web-based marketing. Most of these innovations were examples of ‘gamification’ in practice. Much like frequent flyer points accrued with an airline, a digital means of tracking dollars spent at a specific store (as these dollars work towards some form of reward, such as a free sandwich) is a perfect example of the gamification of web-based activity.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the gamification of our web activity isn’t an inherently unhealthy development. As web designers adopt the motivational and engagement-boosting tools discovered and exploited by game designers, worthwhile educational opportunities are opened up. Many of these opportunities can deliver enriching experiences. Day to day business activities can now become smoother, mutually-beneficial, and altogether more engaging processes. And one couldn’t even begin to list the number of ways gamification has already assisted educators.

In the field of education, gamified web-based tools often utilize the same teaching methods already found in textbooks. But these same tools can now reach new levels of engagement, not to mention unlimited scalability.

One example of gamification tools being put to great use is Treehouse; this organization uses rewards and goal tracking to teach web development techniques. There is no better means to learn how to build web-tools than a gamefied, reward-based training tool. Of course, this is a very specific example. Perhaps a better example comes in the form of web-based health tracking applications like MapMyRun. Who today doesn’t use similar applications when working towards goals? And these are just random, hand-picked examples. The point is that gamification techniques can clearly help us reach even our loftiest goals.

Indeed, there is no shortage of data to suggest that gamification techniques can inspire engagement. This infographic (from GIGYA) provides some enlightening information; this data illustrates why web developers continue to focus on gamification:

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But what about the drawbacks of a gamified web?

Gamification is often used to steal people’s attention away from more productive pursuits. This is becoming more and more of a problem most of us face daily. ‘Click-bait’ might be the ultimate example of these technics effectively wasting people’s time. The Onion’s latest venture (CLICKHOLE) is a hilariously spot-on example, satirizing how click bait captures attention and wastes a site user’s time by directing them to irreverent information. Even ‘reputable’ news sites are now cluttered with attention-grabbing links (after all, these organizations make much of their revenue off of your clicks. More than ever, quality of content is up to your own discretion!) As a result of this almost-impossible-to-ignore clutter, it’s easy to focus our attention on the negative side of these gamification techniques. But let’s not forget the impressive and helpful tools that these techniques are developing.

As always, we have to look past the clutter. Today, marketing agencies are often driving web development; they want you to play their game and to keep on clicking. But with some self-regulation, it’s easy to find these same gamification tools being put to great use. It’s true that the web has now made it all-too easy to become distracted. But it’s also never been easier (or more fun) to learn and accomplish new activities.

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