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The Ups and Downs of On-the-Go Think Tankery

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, October 25 2010

More activity on the think tank app front! Cato's George Scoville, who serves as new media manager for that libertarian ideas shop, writes up Cato's experience in recently launching their free iPhone app. In my mini-review of think app mobile apps (Cato, Heritage, and Brookings) a week and a half ago, I'd taken points away from the Cato app for organizing its content chronologically. Scoville concedes, at least in my reading, that that's a limitation, and says that they'll likely switch things up in future iterations. Heritage's Robert Bluey had a different, and thought-provoking take on this point, arguing that that UI choice was intentional in that conservative shop's case; people go on mobile, goes the thinking, to get the latest and greatest, and so it makes sense to design in order focus attention on what's in the news. The old Hill staffer in me still thinks that being able to pull up research and resources on whatever topic you're working on would be particularly useful. But as Bluey hints, what's big in the news and hot in Congress often has a great deal of overlap. Either way, one thing that seems to be true is that mobile is big on the Hill and getting bigger. Why, even Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to have gotten her hands on an iPad...

On the ol' existential question of whether think tank apps are worth the bother, Scoville pronounces Cato pleased with the pickup of their app. Two thousand downloads in the first 36 hours, he says. Less pleasing to outfits like Cato is that they can't raise funds directly through the iPhone. You'll remember, perhaps, that I'd asked Apple Inc. why that's the case. The app store, Apple argues, just isn't set up to process donations in a way that makes sense. What it's also not set up to do is to share with content creators demographic insight about who's downloading their stuff, and Scoville and Bluey both mention that that's a bit of a pain to not know if they're getting used by chiefs of staff in the Senate or 13 year-old aspiring Hayeks in Des Moines. But that's life in the Apple apps store. Seems like the sort of thing someone might want to hold a hearing on.