NYC open data contest draws to a close Jan. 7

New York City’s BigApps competition hopes to follow similar open data contests in making life more enjoyable and government more responsible. Voting for the best app began December 15 and continues through January 7, 2010. $20,000 hangs in the balance as developers compete for people’s choice, investor’s choice and other category competitions.

In what will be looked back upon as the year in open data, 2009 saw major cities across the U.S. make their transit, demographic and crime data available to the public so that hackers and tech geeks could do something meaningful with it. Web and smart phone applications ranging from the benign, (TreesNearYou) to the proactive (Snap311) to the amazing (Layar’s augmented reality browser) have been among the hundreds of apps created by the release of data from city and county governments.

The latest entrant to the “open data movement” is New York City, who has launched the $20,000 BigApps competition in October and will be awarding prizes January 7. Administered by NYC’s Challengpost, the contest hopes to draw attention to the city’s 170 data sets in hopes of making life better for residents and visitors.

“[I]n general, the City gets quality-of-life improvements simply by releasing data to the public and encouraging software developers to make it useful,” Brandon Kessler, Challengepost founder, said in e-mail correspondence. “Furthermore, government transparency brings government accountability, which benefits city government as well as every resident.”

From October 6 to December 8, 2009 over 85 apps were created and submitted for the $5,000 grand prize for the best overall application and a chance to have dinner with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But awards will also be given for Investor’s Choice ($2,500), Data Visualization ($2,500) City Talent and Popular Choice ($2,500). Worldwide voting for the Popular Choice Award began December 15th and will end at 5:00pm EST January 7, 2010.

During the same three-week period, a panel of nine judges from the city’s technology and venture capital community will pick winners for the remaining categories. Judges include Weblogs founder Jason Calacanis, Dawn Barber (NY Tech Meetup), Union Square Ventures founder Fred Wilson and the City’s former head of Information Technology and Telecommunications Paul Cosgrave.

Top vote-getters thus far include:

Bookzee a location-based library book search. Enter a book title or author, and Bookzee will find a library near you that has it.

smartPark shows you where nearby parking garages are, located on best hourly/daily rates.

NYC Way NYC Way is an iPhone application that bundles 30+ apps in one to find traffic updates, parks, medical centers, Wi-Fi hotspots and more.

Blocks And Lots shows detailed NYC property records for publishers, advertisers and the public.

The benefits of such contests have a strong track record. In Washington, D.C.’s AppsForDemocracy contest, $2.3 million in Web, iPhone and Facebook apps were produced in thirty days. Not only did that contest, held by iStrategyLabs, show the tremendous value in crowdsourcing government data, it showed that it could be done quickly – a point Mr. Kessler likes to underline for those governments looking for returns on investment with open data.

“Right now there is the RFP (Request for Proposal) process whereby it can take several months to get competitive bids from the public before they do the work. Why not put out the job and skip the proposal? Let the public design the logos, create the webpages, make the illustration, or name the initiative? In many cases it will take much less time to do the work than to compete for several months just to get a job.”

Hurry and vote before the end of the week.

Check out the apps and cast your vote at the NYC BigApps gallery.