Digital public works

Posted in Politics at 10:33 am by ducky

Mitch Kapor suggests that some of Obama’s pledged massive public infrastructure project be digital.  While I would hesitate a little bit — I would want to make sure that it wouldn’t cannibalize projects to repair the decaying US physical infrastructure —  I think it’s a really intriguing idea.

For some projects, a lot of good could be done by setting up a structure to make it easy for volunteers to contribute to.  For an example near and dear to my heart, the government already provides a bunch of mapping data.  However, that mapping data is incomplete and erroneous. Fixing an erroneous data point requires very local knowledge, but not much effort.

Suppose there were an iPhone app that would alert when you came close to a questionable point, and ask you to check it out.  For example, if there was a street that had no name entered in the database, if you were close to/on that street, it could ping you and ask you what the name of the street was.  If earlier, it had had trouble finding the location of “234 West Wilpole St, Hoopston, IL” and you live in Wilpole, the app could ping you and ask you where it is.

This will only work if you have a lot of people signed up, and the app works well.  You would need some sort of public awareness campaign (which takes resources), some money to develop the application, and some money to do “customer support”.

I care a lot about map data, so naturally I think of that.  However, there is probably lots of other data that it would be useful to collect.

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