You've had an accident? Send me a picture

C DOWNLOAD.gifWe live in an age where you can take a picture of your lunchtime sandwich and tweet it to the world in the blink of an eye. Never have the world's pets, children and strangely-shaped vegetables been so broadly and immediately exposed. 

Yet you can't send, say, a picture of a crime in progress to the local emergency services to provide them with more intelligence about a perpetrator. Witnesses to an accident can't text pictures of a wounded victim to first responders to better prepare medical staff en route. Now, the Federal Communications Commission in the US is considering the value of mobile multimedia, and evaluating the idea of opening up such channels.

FCC chair Julius Genachowski outlined the organization's proposed reforms in a speech in November. Americans would be able to text messages to 911 services, including pictures using the MMS system. "It's time to bring 911 into the digital age," he said, pointing out that seven in ten calls to the emergency services are already made from mobile phones.

The proposed reforms are not yet official, but would first be open to public comments before going up for a vote. But it's a good sign, and can be taken in context with other moves to bring texting and public sector services together.

Effective communications with the public 

For years now, we have heard talk about government 'contact centres' designed to bring the public a one-stop shop approach to public services - and yet, the most innovative communication channels seem to be public kiosks or basic web sites. Bringing instantly-accessible mobile communications to the mix could dramatically enhance the effectiveness of communications with government. Being able to immediately send a picture of, say, an abandoned car that needed towing, or graffiti that needed removing, makes it far more likely that such things will be communicated to government.

This is starting to happen, slowly but surely. The City of Williamsburg, Va., is already allowing citizens to text in with information about problems that need fixing, such as potholes in the road, for example. 

The private sector has been playing with such ideas for years, with location-based check-in games, and the ability to send pictures instantly to online photo services such as Flickr. And location-based services are getting very good at telling us what resources are nearby. Isn't it time both local and central public sector organizations used mobile services in this way to join up the dots in government?

Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.