GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

County Water Authority mobile app is latest in social media efforts

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 26, 2011

As part of an ongoing effort to integrate social media into its public outreach programs, the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) announced yesterday a free mobile smartphone app that provides access to Water Authority news and Board documents.

Dubbed “Water News” in SDCWA’s news release, the app supplies “Water Authority news releases, videos, top issues, board documents, legislative information and a 24-hour water-related news feed.”

Versions for iPhone and Android smartphones are available now, and a version for Blackberry will also be released soon. [update Nov 19–the Blackberry version has now been released].

SDCWA had conducted numerous internal discussions and solicited public feedback to generate ideas to improve public outreach and began implementing social media tools beginning in 2009. Over the last two years it launched a Facebook page, Slideshare page, and a YouTube channel. It has not yet established a Twitter presence, although it did experiment with “@paths2partners” for its “Paths to Partners” small business and networking event. The popular Water Talks forums were also an outgrowth of these efforts, as was SDCWA’s website redesign making information easier to find.

Public Affairs Representative Craig Balben led the development team as project manager to produce a plan for functionality and design. Coding for the apps on the three mobile platforms was outsourced to Bytes, Inc. last March at a cost of $33,760. Design and functionality are the same on all apps, although there are slight variations in appearance depending on the platform.

The app can be downloaded by visiting the market for your platform and searching for “SDCWA water news.”

Permissions required on the Android version that I downloaded were: prevent phone from sleeping, full internet access, fine GPS location, allow app to control phone vibrator, and view wi-fi and network state.

There are two unwelcome (for me) behaviors of the Water News app. First, it launches automatically when the phone is started. I prefer to start apps at my own discretion, but there is no way to override that default behavior. Second, whenever fresh news is available the app sounds an audible alert. There is no setting to turn that off either, other than to put the phone in silent or vibrate mode. I hope these issues will be addressed in a future version of the product.

Overall, the app makes a good addition to SDCWA’s already excellent public outreach efforts.

[Update on the auto-launch and audible alert: when booting the phone the app automatically launches into the background and continuously scans for news updates. One “feature” of the audible alert is that it keeps ringing periodically even when there appears to be no new news. Craig Balben told me that it’s not just the main news page that triggers alerts, but items in the “more” submenu do as well. Further, unless one actually reads (opens) the news item, the audible alerts will continue. Craig said this annoyance is on the list for future fixes.]


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