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The Petering Out of Apps Contests

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, May 17 2011

Looking at civic apps that haven't gone much of anywhere, Government Technology's Andy Opsahl asks what the future holds for "Apps for X" contests that were, until recently, all the rage. He interviews some of the biggest names in the civic apps world; first up Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategyLabs, which partnered with the District of Columbia in its early "Apps for Democracy" contest:

You don’t see cities like New Orleans, St. Louis, Kansas City or any major metropolises jumping and saying, ‘We need to do this now.’ There doesn’t seem to be a stampede movement like there should be.

And Bryan Sivak, former District CTO who is now the state of Maryland's chief innovation officer:

Part of the problem right now is we’re just saying, ‘Release data for data’s sake because we want to be transparent. Release data because somebody out there might do something with it.’ I don’t think that’s enough to really convince the bureaucrats that it’s worth spending limited resources on.

Some of the confusion might come from the fact that it's never been entirely clear what the point of these apps contests is. Is it to create apps that actually get used? That's what all the focus on ROI -- x thousands of dollars in prize money sparked x million in app creation -- would seem to suggest. Or is it more proof of concept-slash-learning experience, something like a college engineering class rigging up ways to safely drop eggs off roofs? The rest of Opsahl's piece is here.

Update: Open government app developer Mark Headd argues on Twitter that the GovTech piece was overly focused on Washington DC. "Tons happening in #opengov elsewhere," he tweets. "In just last couple of months, @nycbigapps #2, @OpenDataPhilly, @OpenBaltimore, @OpenGovWest and @randomhacks to name a few."