The Data Briefing: What Makes a Great Federal Government App?

May 11, 2016

USAGov recently released a list of six great federal government mobile apps. There were many apps released by the federal government over the last 5-6 years on a wide range of topics and services. Many are well-designed and useful to the American public. So, what are the outstanding federal government apps for 2016?

Menu items from the FEMA app, which is available for Apple, Android, and Blackberry mobile devices.
  1. The Department of State’s Smart Traveler. First launched in 2011, this mobile app helps international travelers find U.S. embassies, provides travel warnings, and displays basic information on countries.
  2. The Department of Agriculture’s FoodKeeper. This mobile app performs a simple but vital service: informing consumers about proper food storage. Users can also use the app to ask experts about food safety.
  3. In my opinion, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) mobile app is the one app that everyone should have on his or her device. Not only can users receive emergency alerts and preparedness tips, users can also provide disaster photos to help first responders.
  4. Tax season is over. However, the Internal Revenue Service’s IRS2Go app is worth keeping all year round. Users can check on their refund status or make payments directly from their bank account. For qualifying elderly or disabled taxpayers, the app helps find free tax preparation assistance. What I especially like are the latest tax tips and links to tax information videos.
  5. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide the CDC Influenza mobile App. This app is designed specifically for healthcare professionals dealing with the busy flu season. The app provides the latest flu news and CDC updates along with tracking the spread of the influenza virus.
  6. Three screens of the dweller app on different mobile devices
    Deciding where to go to college, work, raise a family, and retire can be the biggest decisions in a person’s life. The Census Bureau’s Dwellr app crunches census data to help the user find the U.S. city or town best suited to his or her needs.

What are the characteristics that all of these apps have in common and that make them the outstanding federal government apps for 2016?

First, these apps have a unifying purpose and they fulfill that purpose well. FoodKeeper is devoted solely to food safety while Dwellr helps find the ideal place to live. Second, the app is focused on its audience. The CDC Influenza mobile app’s audience is health care professionals, and this shows in the app’s design. The FEMA app is designed for people who need immediate answers while in the middle of a disaster.

Equally important as to having a single, well-defined purpose and knowing the audience is a robustly-designed app. The app must be fast, and it must be stable. The app must also offer a good user experience. Each of these apps offers vital information that can affect a user’s finances or health. Therefore, the app must be dependable and intuitive.

The federal government is continually releasing apps and will offer even more apps in the coming years. Even as the federal government moves into the post-app world of chatbots, having a well-defined purpose, knowing the audience, and providing a good user experience are vital to building great apps and chatbots for the American public.

Each week, The Data Briefing showcases the latest federal data news and trends. Dr. William Brantley is the Training Administrator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Global Intellectual Property Academy. You can find out more about his personal work in open data, analytics, and related topics at All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the USPTO or GSA.

Originally posted by Bill Brantley on May 11, 2016

USPTO | Washington D.C.

May 11, 2016