Crowdsourcing Contest Winner to Help New York City's Commuters

Published Oct-10-11

Software application to help New Yorkers find parking spaces as well as providing them with real-time transit information.

New York City Government, United States

The Story:

Crowdsourcing Contest Winner to Help New York City's Commuters Nick Nyhan was driving around New York City late one night and was becoming increasingly frustrated at not being able to find a parking space. That moment of irritation was his inspiration for a social transit app that won the 2011 NYC BigApps 2.0 competition.

NYC BigApps Contest

For the past couple of years NYC has opened up its vast data collection to software developers and designers, and via an increasingly popular crowdsourcing competition has encouraged them to build apps from it. The NYC BigApps contest is one of the largest open government initiatives of its kind, providing more than 350 sets of official data for the public to create apps.

The prize money in 2011 was double that of the previous year and $40,000 was split up among the winning apps.

More than 600 ideas were submitted and over 1,600 votes were cast. The top 25 ideas with the most votes were then evaluated by a panel of judges who then selected the ten best overall concepts.

Winning App

The ‘Roadify’ iphone app that won first prize for Nick Nyhan and his team aggregates city traffic data as well as allowing New Yorkers to give on-the-spot updates about that information so that users can be alerted to the latest road, bus and subway conditions.

"The BigApps competition illustrates the robust innovation that can take place when City data is opened to public creativity,” said NYC’s Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith.

Warning Signs

Crowdsourcing apps contests such as these promote transparency across city and federal governments. They increase public access to information and give a boost to innovation and entreprenuership. But care has to be taken with these open innovation initiatives so that they achieve their full potential and that winning ideas are not left by the wayside.

There is concern in some quarters that once the hype around a contest has died down authorities will lose interest in the apps and either through lack of will or funding issues will not of adequately resource or maintain them. If that is so developers will have a difficult time making money from their ideas.

NYC Innvation Boost

NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg does not want that fate to befall contest- winning apps in the Big Apple. He is on a mission to boost innovation in his city and in a speech at this year’s NYC BigApps awards ceremeony said that the previous year’s winner MyCityWay had attracted numerous investments and has grown as a venture.

Nevertheless, despite the success in New York it is a fact that apps for democracy crowdsourcing competitions have not fired up city governments across the United States. There has been a tailing off in enthusiasm since 2008 when the District of Columbia initiated Apps for Democracy.

There are a number of possible reasons for this including;

Some complain that governments are not releasing enough data, and this is a hurdle for developers who want to design more profitable apps that will reach a large percentage of the population

A natural decline in enthusiasm and interest that occurs when many new technologies and ideas are launched.

Rosy Outlook for New York

However, in New York the outlook for crowdsourcing apps contests and developers appears to be a lot rosier. During this year’s awards ceremony mayor Bloomberg announced that BMW is going to launch a small-business incubator space in New York City to support new technology solutions and up-and-coming companies. This is in addition to its new $100 million venture capital fund that made its first investment in MyCityWay, the 2010 apps contest winner.

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