by Pam Greenberg
A tiny, but growing, percentage of those apps are created for the legislative world. Some, like the New York Senate’s mobile apps, were designed by legislative staff. But there are many others created by private developers, designed to provide access to more types of legislative information and a faster, easier way of connecting to legislators.
For example, one developer offers a $4.99 iPhone/iPod/Ipad statute app with drill-down and searchable access to the text of laws in 29 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Another offers statutes from 12 states, at $12.99 each.
Other apps provide standard information about legislators: address, district location and number, party affiliation, member contact form, committee assignments, and a bio. One company offers apps for more than a dozen state legislatures (and 11 more in the works), at a cost ranging from 99 cents to $29.99, depending on the information and frequency of updates. For some of these states, there’s also the name of a members’ chief of staff or legislative aide and a link to the office phone number, along with campaign information, such as the percent of vote won in the most recent election, the name of the top opponent and other information. The developer promises to provide updates throughout the one-year subscription period. With this app, the developer says, you can have every member of the legislature “in YOUR pocket.”
Another $9.99 iPhone app provides a similar directory of legislators, but also adds a blue-to-red voting bar with a star that gives “an estimated ideal point derived from legislative roll call votes” to show how a member voted compared to others in each party.
Pew Internet director Lee Rainie predicted in an interview that the mobile apps we saw emerge in the mid-term elections will "become something that is part of the standard playbook of every political consultant, every political actor, and then develops more richly for the 2012 environment.”
Just one example of what’s to come might be this free app that lets you tell those in Congress “how you feel on any issue, and see how your vote compares to theirs.” But the data is also collected on behalf of legislators, campaigns and others who sign up for the service. This group says they are working on state level versions. I'm guessing there are other similar apps out there and many more to come.
Smartphone sales are predicted to surpass PC and laptop sales next year, so whether it’s through apps or mobile websites and mobile browsers, more citizens will be seeing and connecting with their legislatures anytime, anywhere, on a smaller screen. The devices may be new, but the challenges remain the same—how to create meaningful interaction and understanding between citizens and their government.