Federal Computer Week has an encouraging article about how the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Weather Service are now providing useful information via mobile handheld devices. They have stripped down information from their Web sites, emphasizing text, so that cell phones and other mobile devices can easily upload it. The agencies are able to reach more people with “potentially life-saving content” in the case of an environmental alert or, in the case of the NWS, a storm warning. The technology managers orchestrating this hope they are taking the first step toward two-way communications between government agencies and cell phone users.
The designers of EPA’s Mobile Web site realized that they would have to keep the content simple and basic because of the wide range of mobile devices out there, from the 3G devices like Apple’s iPhone, to the cell phones running on slower cellular networks. The article quotes the EPA’s designer, “With a typical cell phone, you’re basically back to the Gopher world,” the text-based Internet interface that preceded browsers using graphics. So they designed processes that strip graphics and other resource-hogging items from blogs, press releases and the like so that mobile users can upload basic text. The Weather Service’s forecast and other information tends to be quite time sensitive, so they to have build devices that transform their data so that it can be immediately displayed on mobile devices.
This is a great development.