B’klyn Programmers Are a Big Part of BigApps Contest

February 22, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Zach Campbell
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BROOKLYN — Last fall, the Bloomberg administration began its third-annual app development competition, bringing together close to 100 groups to see who could program the most useful mobile application for New Yorkers. Applications will be judged based on their potential impact on residents and visitors, their creativity and originality, their design and their commercial potential.

To make the programmers’ jobs easier, the city has made available hundreds of public data sets, including restaurant inspection results; the locations of Wi-fi hotspots, public bathrooms, parks, public art; subway entrances; parking ticket records; and even a list of the top 10 buildings for elevator-related citations — the list is exhaustive. Winners will be chosen at the end of next month, partially by a panel of judges and partially by a public vote that will last another two weeks.

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This year’s submissions covered a range of interests. Apps were created to help locals and tourists alike navigate the city’s public transit system, find places to volunteer, rate their landlords or decide whether or not they agree with how their elected representatives are voting.

Dan Blumberg of Clinton Hill and his team decided to take a more unorthodox approach. Their app, Scene Near Me,  notifies users when they pass near a place where a movie has been filmed, using a film shoot database from the city and the social media platform Foursquare.    

“Whether it’s King Kong, Annie Hall, Spider-Man or any other New York film, we can tell you where it’s been filmed,” said Blumberg. “We definitely see it appealing to tourists, but I think it’ll also be really fun for locals.”

AltruiCity, programmed by Joey Khalid, a student at NYU Law School, seeks to connect people around their interests in volunteering. Like Facebook or many other social media platforms, users create profiles and can browse nearby events and connect with others around common interests. The application filters the social events from a volunteer opportunities database, and displays them along with the names of the other users who are attending.

“It’s great if you can use your own interest in a way that is also helpful to others,” Khalid said, “and if you want to go be social and meet people outside of the context of a bar or club.”

Most of the apps submitted cater to people living in New York who want to connect and organize around common interests. New York Trip Builder, however, was programmed entirely with tourists in mind. It allows them to select sights, events and restaurants from a list, and then plots out the most efficient course.

“The idea is: I have three days in New York, and instead of searching around for what to do I can just enter my start date and end date, and create a trip based on a list of options,” said Mukul Pal, one of the app’s four programmers, who all come from Chicago by way of Chandigarh, India. “It helps you personalize your trip — we used it on our last trip to New York.”

This is the third year that the BigApps competition has been held. Nearly twice as many projects as last year were submitted, and programmers have had access to a cache of city data that is much larger than years past. Awards will be given for the best overall app, the winner of the public vote, and for the best apps in categories like health, education and transit. Public voting will be open for another two weeks.

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