City officials — and I — had high hopes. They gave computer programmers mountains of city data and offered prize money for the best mobile applications.
Six months later, city officials say they’re delighted with the results, but dismal applications belie the positive spin. How bad are they? Check out the winners.
WayFinderNYC: This application for smart phones that use Google’s Android operating system directs users to the nearest subway stop. Of course, the map program that comes with the phone does exactly the same thing.
Taxihack: This is a Web based application (so it works with any Internet-enabled device) that lets users comment on individual taxis and/or drivers via e-mail or Twitter. Perhaps the developers think it’s possible for users to wait for a particularly well-rated cab rather than just hailing the first available? Perhaps they think cab companies will check the results and fire bad drivers? Perhaps they just smoke crack?
Big Apple Ed: This Web-based application provides detailed information and allows user reviews of the city’s network of public schools. This one might actually have some promise. Parents certainly need a better way to compare schools before deciding where in the city to live. But it’s hardly the sort of program that will make city-living easier on a day-to-day basis.
What sort of applications would I like to see?
StopLoafing: Launch this application and snap a picture whenever you see city employees goofing off when they should be working. Using the GPS in your phone, software that analyzes uniforms and city-supplied information about what workers should be in what general areas, the program automatically sends the photograph, along with a time stamp, to the appropriate department. Any worker caught loafing three times gets the ax.
No doubt in response to my posts on this blog, New York City has more than doubled the number of datasets that it now offers to programmers who want to build useful computer applications for residents and visitors. To encourage active use of the information, programmers who submit the best software before December 8 will have a shot at $20,000 in prize money and (oddly) dinner with the mayor.
The city cannot offer mass transit schedules because that data is all owned by the independent Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but there is some potentially interesting numbers over at NYC DataMine. There is, for example, information on how every restaurant in the city fared on its health inspection, so expect to see apps that let you check up on the cleanliness of every eatery. There is also information about the location of parking facilities and lots of school information. Would-be home buyers would probably love an app that allowed them to type in any city address and get detailed information about the schools there kids would attend if they lived there.
While the MTA continues to make like difficult for programmers who want to package transit data for easy public consumption, the city of San Francisco has done just the opposite. Not only does San Francisco publish much city data in formats that help programmers use it, the city also runs an app store with the programs they create.
Not all government agencies from the New York area have fought programmers as much as the Metropolitan Transit Authority — the city itself is sponsoring a programming contest — but reading through the list of apps available to SF residents, the Big Apple appears well behind the city by the bay.
That said, iPhone owners can now download an NYC 311 app that lets users send quality-of-life complaints directly to NYC. The question, of course, is what happens after that.
The Metropolitan Transportation Agency generally forbids programmers from taking information from its terrible Web site and presenting it to the public in easy-to-understand formats. It does provide some free info to Google — as I have mentioned before — but it requires that each would-be user makes a deal rather than just putting all the data out there and letting programmers find innovative ways to display it.
It also forbids pretty much all outside computer programs from using copyrighted visual designs — like the subway’s colored, circular line logos –so developers must confuse users with different visuals.
The MTA has thus been actively thwarting efforts that would increase MTA ridership and make life easier for riders — efforts that would cost the MTA nothing.
Wow. I really, really hope Waldner fires anyone who has ever advocated this stand.
Category: Getting Around, innovation, Red Tape
| Tags: applications, apps, bus, idiocy, jay waldner, long island railroad, mass transit, mta, public transportation, subway, technology