The web is no longer shiny and new. Yet there are huge gains and impacts to be unearthed by applying the power of “old school” Web 1.0 and 2.0 tools to solve real-world problems.
I would argue that the real future of the web is not in VR or crypto, but in access, accessibility, and impact-driven solutions. Is it even a hot plug?
While it is tempting to dream of virtual worlds and digital fortunes, while nearly 100,000 Baltimore city residents lack basic reliable internet access, what service does this offer our future and to our fellow citizens? The city’s recent commitments are encouraging, but it remains painfully clear that we need equitable internet access to unlock the city’s potential and empower its citizens to fully participate in the modern economy.
Beyond basic Internet access, there is also the question of how the Web provides access to resources. Our team recently worked on two web application projects that aim to increase this type of access: The Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) CHARMcare and our partnership with Without fear about the federal government Challenge.Gov.
CHARMcare is an open-source directory that guides users to free or low-cost resources in Baltimore. The enhancements we’ve made to the Ruby on Rails app for BCHD make it easier for city dwellers to find relevant resources, by implementing complex notation, Elasticsearch, location-based sorting, and popping up critical COVID resources at the start of the pandemic.
Challenge.Gov, run by the General Services Administration (GSA), is designed to bring innovation from the public to the federal government through challenges and prizes. The new Elixir SmartLogic platform built for the GSA allows direct access to challenge issuers and the general public. Previously, processes were managed manually and access was limited by connections to the management team. The platform was used last fall to bring the voice of the public directly to the White House. More than 7,000 people are already using the platform last January.
Accessibility is an extremely important factor in the apps we design. Accessibility encompasses many things, from WCAG compliance to restriction reductions, to considerations of where the user is located and what types of devices they can access.
Accessible design strongly overlaps with good UX and starts with a few questions: what is most important to the user? What tools and priorities do they have? How do they want to interact?
For a recent app we built for Central cuisine of the world text-to-order program, WCK Direct, this meant allowing meal recipients to call or text their food orders in English or Spanish. Sometimes the most impactful tools don’t seem the most complex — sometimes they have to connect familiar endpoints to sophisticated backend systems. We leveraged an easy-to-use phone workflow for recipients, connected to a main admin interface and a simple iPad app for restaurants, and used Twilio to route data to the right places. The app has enabled WCK Direct, which provides meals to food-insecure beneficiaries during the pandemic, to expand to more than ten cities and more than double its reach.
As appealing as it may seem to leave the physical world for the metaverse, there are very real needs and issues all around us. For Baltimoreans struggling to pay their rent or water bill, crypto probably isn’t the answer. But CHARMcare could help them find useful resources. Likewise, the metaverse will not provide food or shelter to the more than 10 million Ukrainians displaced by war.
Technology should solve some sort of real-world need. Otherwise, you end up with a solution looking for a problem. If your basic needs are met, how you choose to spend your disposable income and disposable time is up to you – I’m in no way suggesting that the world doesn’t need creative art, games and entertainment. experiences. But there is a lot of urgent work to be done and trillions of dollars in the market to back it up. For me, the need to stay focused on Web 1.0 and 2.0 is more than obvious, and that’s where I will continue to dedicate my time and energy.