Originally launched in 2007 by our parent charity mySociety, FixMyStreet is a national reporting service for local street and environmental problems that sends reports to the correct authority even if the report-maker doesn’t know who that is.
Citizens can use the website, or they can download an app from the app store if they prefer. Until very recently, that app was a dedicated, ‘traditional’ app that ran on a different codebase to the website, and to each of the FixMyStreet Pro sites built for SocietyWorks’ client councils and other public sector bodies.
Not anymore though.
The FixMyStreet app has now been replaced with a brand new app store progressive web app.
This is very good news for app users, the councils who receive reports from FixMyStreet, and those who use FixMyStreet Pro as their own reporting solution – here’s why.
The new app store PWA enables assets like street lights and grit bins that were previously only available on FixMyStreet Pro sites to be displayed on the national site and app, meaning citizens are always able to make reports containing the most accurate information possible, no matter where they make the report.
Having a PWA instead of a website and separate dedicated app means that we don’t need to maintain two different codebases, helping us to keep costs down for our public sector clients without compromising on service delivery.
With everything running from the same codebase, this also means that everyone always enjoys the same user experience, with updates made to the website automatically reflected on app store PWAs. It also means accessibility is of the same high standard across the board.
Progressive web apps (PWAs) are websites that have been designed with ‘app like’ qualities. They look and act like an app and can be downloaded to a mobile’s home screen like an app – either from an app store or by simply saving the website directly to your device.
The main differences between PWAs and ‘normal’ dedicated apps is that they run from the same codebase and users are not obligated to download them in order to use them. Plus, they enable you to provide exactly the same experience to users across the website and “app”, with new features and functionality automatically available.
Yes, and that’s nothing new! FixMyStreet Pro was already a PWA, giving the councils and other public sector bodies that use the solution the ability to offer their users the choice to use a website, or download their PWA if they prefer.
Individually branded FixMyStreet Pro PWAs aren’t downloaded from an app store. Instead, users need to load the website from a browser on their chosen device and save it to their home screen – it will then work exactly the same as an app store PWA.
With all FixMyStreet Pro sites connected to the national service, the solution is capable of triaging reports on a nationwide scale, diverting reports meant for other authorities or agencies like National Highways.
Want to know more about FixMyStreet or FixMyStreet Pro? Get in touch with us.
Image: William Fortunato
As you may have noticed, at mySociety we’ve never been big on apps — we tend to encourage access to our websites via your phone’s mobile browser instead.
We design all our sites as ‘mobile first’, meaning that they work well on any size of device and automatically resize to fit any screen dimension. That’s good practice anyway, but as a small organisation it also saves us a lot of time and effort.
But that presents an issue when we’re talking to potential FixMyStreet Pro clients, in authorities and councils, who often see an app as a very desirable part of their offering to citizens.
Now, thanks to the emergence of the ‘progressive web app’ (PWA), we’re exploring a whole new approach that we hope will please everyone, as our Developer Struan explains:
We’ve been talking about what to do with the FixMyStreet app for a long time.
The app we offer at the moment runs from a separate codebase than the main FixMyStreet site, which means when we update features on FixMyStreet we then have to redo the same work for the app.
As a result, it sometimes lags behind: for example there are various features — detection of duplicate reports, and display of assets like streetlights or grit bins, for example — that have never made it across.
And in all honesty? We have to admit that apps aren’t really our speciality. Generally speaking, you’d employ dedicated app developers and designers if you wanted to create really excellent app experiences. mySociety is a small organisation without big overheads — can’t complain, that’s what allows us to be nimble and responsive — and so far, we’ve stuck to doing what we do well.
With all that in mind, the FixMyStreet app is beginning to look quite old, and there are various aspects of it that don’t really meet with current expectations of how apps work.
Loosely speaking, PWAs are a collection of technologies that you can add to a website that then give it ‘app like’ qualities. To all intents and purposes, a PWA-ified site looks and acts like an app: our client authorities will be able to add their own logos and colour palettes and tell their residents to ‘download the app’, and for the citizen, that’s just what it will feel like they’re doing.
In practice, the app is effectively the website being viewed on a mobile screen, just as we sometimes recommend to users. But the PWA tech not only makes it look and feel like an app, it also allows it to be added to app stores and downloaded by users onto their screens via that route. It also adds a more ‘app-like’ navigation and a startup process.
One downside is that only the latest version of iOS supports all the things we need to make this work, although we note that iOS adoption rates are quite high. To make up for this a bit, alongside the PWA work we’ll be adding in some code to make the offline process a bit less jarring for those accessing the website on older versions of iOS.
Meanwhile, as far as we can tell, everything should go smoothly on Android.
So — lots of positives and we hope it will all come together in the near future. We’re continuing to explore this approach and will report back when we can say for certain whether it’s viable.
Image: Saulo Mohana