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New York City Announces BigApps 3.0

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, October 12 2011

A $10,000 grand prize is now on offer for the third NYC BigApps competition, announced last night.

Launched in 2009 as of the earliest contests challenging developers to build applications specifically for denizens of a given city, New York City's competition this year offers a total of $50,000 in cash and other prizes to be awarded in categories like "Best Health Application," "Best Green Application," "Best Education Application" and "Best NYC Mashup." To stir the pot, the city also announced the release of more than 230 new data sets from city agencies, commissions, and business improvement districts. New data releases include how much garbage and recyclable materials, in tons, are produced by each community board in the city; a directory to temporary public art; and electricity consumption by ZIP Code.

The city touts more than 140 "new and innovative" applications as having come out of the BigApps competition since its launch, and city officials are seeking to play up the open government and transparency aspects of their data release. Both of these are a little more complicated than the city is saying. Last year's winner of the BigApps competition, for example, Roadify, was in development before the contest began — but winning the contest certainly increased the company's profile. As for open government, it's unclear which data will be updated regularly and which will be allowed to go stale; that may limit its utility for watchdogs in the long term.

"We’re in the process of adding a field to the metadata that will tell users how often that particular dataset will be updated," Nicholas Sbordone, a spokesman for the city's Office of Information Technology and Telecommunications, wrote to me in an email. "In parallel, we’re working to develop APIs to help agencies automate the publishing of their data – so instead of their having to send it over periodically we’ll be able to refresh it on NYC Open Data as soon as they update in their systems."

As much data as can be refreshed regularly, will be, Sbordone said. Beginning in November, 311 data will be updated daily as complaints are filed, he said.

That said, Roadify is still a business that serves New Yorkers, and there are still over 750 machine-readable sets of government data now available on the city's newly revamped data portal — many of which have immediately obvious uses for researchers, watchdogs and developers. And the apps contest can be best understood as a way the city is stretching a fairly meager amount of money a long way in an effort to keep things exciting in what is becoming one of New York's keystone industries.

"Between 2005 and 2010, employment in the hi-tech sector in New York City has grown by 30 percent," Patrick Muncie, a spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corporation, told me today. "You're seeing companies, tech companies that are springing up here, you're seeing already established tech companies whether its Twitter or Facebook or Google that are setting up an East Coast presence here in New York City."

In this context, he said, the BigApps competition represents "further efforts by the Bloomberg administration to grow and foster innovation and creativity within this sector."

The prize money will be put up jointly by the city EDC and BMW iVentures. Muncie couldn't immediately say how much each entity would be contributing.

This post has been updated to include new information.