Sweet Apps for the Big Apple

The omnipresent iPhone. One of many devices that could soon carry apps invented by the public to make life in New York City more manageable and imaginative. Flickr/Yutaka Tsutano.

Ever wanted to rate the best and worst streets in your borough? There could soon be an app for that.

On Wednesday, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel, along with the New York Economic Development Corporation and the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, announced the winners of the first NYC BigApps Ideas Challenge, a contest which invited the public to suggest, and vote on, applications for web, desktop or mobile devices designed to improve the way New Yorkers interact with their city.

Between June 21 and July 28, people from all over the country were invited to finish the sentence “I want an NYC app that____” in under 140 characters on the Ideas Challenge website.

“This competition has given a voice to New Yorkers with creative ideas on how to improve their City, but who don’t necessarily have the technical capabilities to create an app themselves,” said Seth W. Pinsky, president of the New York Economic Development Corporation, in a written statement.

The public was invited to vote on the top 25 app ideas after the submission period ended in July. A panel of judges voted on the top 10 winners. The 25 finalists each received $100 and the top 10 winners were awarded $250 for their ingenuity. The panel included such eminent New York technorati as Dawn Barber, co-founder of New York Tech Meetup; Clay Shirkey, associate professor of arts at ITP; and Alex Diehl, managing director of BMW iVentures.

Of the 600 ideas contributed, the 10 winners include apps that:

  • Let you “like” or rate any street or block in the five boroughs
  • Give the location of the nearest public restrooms with A, B, C or D ratings for their cleanliness and safety
  • Create networks of citizens who can give feedback to local government about issues their borough, district and neighborhood
  • Aggregate all the volunteer initiatives available and allow someone to register/participate

Some of MetroFocus’ favorite non-winning ideas included “an app that is all about dogs!” and “an app that show me how long exactly I do have to wait until the rain will stops, based on my current location in a city.” Ah, wouldn’t we all.

“We’re excited that this has helped grow the ecosystem around NYC BigApps by bringing in non-developers and their great suggestions in order to improve NYC quality of life through software,” said Brandon Kessler, CEO of ChallengePost, the company that operated the Ideas Challenge, in a written statement.

NYC Big Apps Ideas Challenge was based off of the original NYC BigApps competition, launched in 2009 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That competition, now in its second year, invited web developers to access over 170 sets of official city data, and use them to design apps. The grand prize of $40,000 for the second NYC BigApps competition, held earlier this year, was awarded to the Roadify iPhone app, which alerts users to updates in road and public transit conditions in real time.

While there’s no set plans to develop the app ideas presented in the Ideas Challenge, the city hopes that talented developers will try to build some of them during the third NYC Big Apps competition in the fall.


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