Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Want to Fix New York? There May Be an App for That.

parking appFirst, apologies to the headline police–I did my best to avoid the “app for that” trope, but I failed. I’ll offer a full refund to anyone who wants one.

Onto the business at hand: What if you could use an app to do something other than entertain yourself for a few minutes? It’s certainly doable, but the offerings that tend to dominate outlets like Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes Store usually veer toward the…ephemeral.

The current No. 4 on iTunes paid app list, for instance, is iPasties by Pastease, which is described by its developers as “sexier than a bikini.”

So here’s a much soberer set of apps: 85 entrants in the NYC Big Apps contest, which is designed to “reward the developers of the most useful, inventive, appealing, effective, and commercially viable applications for delivering information from the City of New York’s NYC.gov Data Mine to interested users.”

That’s a mouthful, but the gist is simple: New York City has a lot of data stored in its municipal servers, and apps that access that stuff could be genuinely useful for the city’s residents and visitors.

Like, say, an app that lets you peruse a restaurant’s inspection report before sitting down for dinner.

You can see a list of competition’s entrants here, and you can vote on them anytime between now and Jan. 7. A group of New York City digerati will also weigh in, and winners will get a share of $20,000 in prize money, plus a chance to chow down with Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

These aren’t exclusively iPhone apps, by the way. There are some designed for Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system, as well as Web apps. Many are up and running, though some are still in development or have yet to be approved by Apple for iTunes distribution.

The idea is appealing, though I’m not sure how it’s going to work in practice. For instance, who’s really prepared to evaluate the pros and cons of the three different apps that promise to help you find street parking in Manhattan? (Also, how do any of those work without provoking street fights from hyperaggressive Manhattan parkers?)

Still, a worthwhile effort, and a nice break from the fluff you may be used to. Then again, if that’s your thing, Beautiful Boobs is No. 3 on iTunes free apps list…


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work