Once again it is election season. I live in King County, WA, home of Microsoft, Amazon, and a variety of other tech companies. In fact, two ex-Microsoft employees are running for Congress from my district: Suzan Delbene and Pedro Celis. Pedro was my former manager and colleague at Microsoft, in fact, so I keep track of this particular race.
Of course, this is one of many races and initiatives on the ballot. We keep seeing public-service ads like the one above urging us to be "informed voters." To help us be informed voters, King County sent our family not one, but two weighty voter pamphlets by snail mail -- 79 pages each! Let's think about that for a minute -- hundreds of thousands of these pamphlets, headed for certain recycling the week after Election Day. Is there a better way?
I browsed over to the King County elections page -- they have a print edition, an online edition, even an audio edition of the voters' pamphlet. Yet no mobile app edition! It would be the perfect combination of "carry-it-with-you," "update-it-on-demand," and "easy-to-consume." And in fact, without deforesting half the Cascades in the interest of educating the electorate.
So why no mobile app? I searched Google for "mobile voter pamphlet." Just a few relevant hits showed up -- a prototype mobile app from Marin county, CA being built via a university research project, and in North Carolina, a contest entry to build a voters pamphlet mobile app, the cost of the latter being $45,000 and timeframe six months! The most promising thing I found was ThinkVoting which is trying to provide a specific app for this purpose that can be rolled out at scale across all counties, but it's in an early stage.
This is a great example of the sort of mobile app that should be built, but is inhibited by cost and time to build. And another interesting characteristic -- it has limited shelf-life. It is only useful during one election and then it is no longer needed.
There are many other such potential apps that could carry content for specific events or periods of time, like an app for a marketing campaign or an app for a movie launch. But they don't get built because it is tough to justify $45,000, it is tough to plan it six months in advance, and it is tough to find the right people to do it well.
Hmm, who might have a solution where I can quickly, easily, and affordably create my own mobile apps?