Web Apps With Physical Bodies

Some see Web 3.0 as a way for Web applications to have a 3-D presence in the physical world. Through smartphones, Web apps can use the physical senses of hearing, sight, touch and so forth. The infrastructural trend of installing sensors that transmit data throughout commonly trafficked areas is expanding the possibilities for machine-to-machine communication. Hartley imagines there will be a day when smartphone users can drive past a motor vehicles office that has installed sensors for transmitting citizen reminders. As people pass by, they could be alerted on their phones that their license or vehicle registration is about to expire.

The interaction between the application and a smartphone is another form of machine-to-machine communication. Pahlka points to applications the private sector has already released in connection to government objects. In a Forbes.com article, she and O’Reilly Media founder and CEO Tim O’Reilly highlight Android app Wikitude, which has a travel guide that uses the Android’s camera, compass and image recognition to tell a user what monument he or she is viewing. Additionally the Android app Darkslide shows users pictures of what’s nearby. Pahlka said there might come a day when a smartphone user drives over a pothole, the device senses it and an app automatically reports that pothole to the appropriate public works agency.

Dodging the Open Data Movement

Given that some governments are still not participating in the open data movement, a truly Web 3.0 world could still be far off, Hartley said. “I guess I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to Web 3.0,” she said. “I see people bandying this term about, and oftentimes it feels disingenuous to me. I think we are a long way from Web 3.0 in government.”

A common fear expressed by government officials about open data in government is the potential for blogs and other media outlets to find ammunition to criticize public agencies.

Pahlka thinks the growing political popularity of transparency and the Obama administration’s open data repository Data.gov will eliminate nonparticipation as an option. As elected officials take office with transparency as a political platform, they’re going to demand that agencies comply with that agenda, Pahlka predicted.

“If you look at the strong signals that are coming from Washington, D.C.,” she said, “right now it is becoming very clear that this is the direction the top leaders in government technology want to see the rest of the country go. I think that pressure will increase.”

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.