Everybody talks about the weather…

…but the National Weather Service (NWS) won’t write apps for it. This from Information Week Government, which reports that the NWS has “put a hold on the use of internal resources to develop device-specific mobile application for iPhones, Androids, or iPads.” The deputy director who made the decision reasons that there are already thousands of successful weather apps on the market that use NWS data, so there’s no need for the Service itself to write apps itself. The NWS employee union does not agree with this decision, calling it “demoralizing” and a step towards privatization of the National Weather Service.

To me, what the NWS seems to be doing is what we in the private sector call “adopting a platform strategy.” They’re focusing on the app and service infrastructure (the platform and APIs), leaving client side development to other parties. This is an excellent way of increasing adoption of your information and services. Just look at Twitter and Facebook, not to mention all of the companies using the Mashery, for examples of organizations that have used platforms to enable countless uses of their services in apps and web sites.

Perhaps the deputy director could have avoided at least some of this conflict by stressing the positive innovation potential of the platform as opposed to the negative of stopping app development.

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Platform thinking at #modeveast

I spent an exciting Friday (Dec. 2) at the MoDev EAST conference in McLean, VA. This was the first (annual, I hope) event organized by Pete Erickson and Disruptathon; they did a spectacular job of organizing superb content and enthusiastic attendees.

One theme that I heard several times in the course of the day was the power of the platform, the importance of robust, flexible platforms and platform-independent APIs as a tool for managing the increasingly complex landscape of mobile and digital devices. In a session on “Multi-platform development and content,” the USA Today team outlined their platform and API architecture, and explained how that makes it easier for them to support native clients on just about every platform in the market, with more to come (including the Kindle Fire).

As an example of what they’re doing on the client side, have a look at the USA Today Chrome web app, which shows the use of responsive web design (try resizing the browser window to see the effect).

The USA Today panel was followed by a session on “Mobile Apps and the Rising Importance of the API,” where Delyn Simons from Mashery encouraged us all to “think like a platform.” No surprise there; Mashery’s business is creating and managing APIs for companies large and small, so platform thinking is essential to their business. Still, her emphasis on “platform thinking” was right on, particularly her advice to the audience to “drop the SOAP” (in favor of RESTful APIs).

The third example of platform thought showed up in the afternoon session on “Apps and the Government – Today and Tomorrow,” where several representatives of government agencies talked about their mobile activities and experiences. The Federal government is embracing open data and open APIs in a big way. Data.gov is an enormous collection of open APIs and open data just waiting for smart developers and entrepreneurs to use to build new services and businesses. Challenge.gov lists contests and challenges for new ideas, services, and applications.

I think this re-discovery of platforms in the mobile industry is evidence that the mobile sector is starting to mature, as developers and enterprises move beyond their first “apps” and start to understand that mobile and portable devices are part of business as usual. That means adopting the same software architecture and engineering practices that “non-mobile” developers have used for years (MVC, anyone?).

This maturity is essential, as the client landscape will only get more complex, as we see a demand for apps and services on a wider range of phones and tablets, not to mention cars and home appliances.