There's A User For That!

  • In the minds of a new generation of smartphone app developers, the city is luckily absorbing a great amount of effort and tons of hidden information that are being revealed thanks to the work of creative minds collecting data from institutional sources or from the citizen themselves. It is interesting to notice which path a team decides to choose when it faces the problems related to the source of information. On the one hand, it can create an app that implements data coming from the users means betting over participation and crowd-sourcing and providing just a structure and leaving the rest to the public. On the other hand, it can be a curator who takes care of selecting the content of the app, which means that the buyer will be provided not with just a platform, but a database of filtered content as well.

    Two notable examples of using both ways of working were featured between the winners of the NYC BigApps 2.0 competition (the results of the past edition were already discussed in this post), a big gathering of influential tech entrepreneurs organized in order to give value to an ‘open government’ policy, in which citizens contribute and engage in improving the lives of New Yorkers using mobile technologies.

    One of the winners of the competition is Roadify, an application that opens traffic data to the transport system users. Roadify partly relies on the input of the app users, which are supposed to integrate the official flow of data derived from the main transportation authorities, featuring not only public transit but also private driving and parking information. The creators of Roadify hope that all collected information from its users will sketch an accurate picture of what is going on in transport systems:

    “Whether you’re looking for that free parking spot a neighbor just left or trying to get a better idea of when your bus or subway is showing up, Roadify’s got you covered. (…) Roadify takes the most recently published data from sources like the MTA and DOT and then adds real-time updates from commuters like you to make them even smarter.”

    Another app is CultureNOW, which features the content of a database of podcasts, maps, self-guided tours and photos regarding history, art and architecture that can be found in public spaces, all based on data collected by the Homonymous Association:

    CultureNOW is powered by a network of professionals — scholars, artists, architects, urban planners, educators, curators, historians and New York City specialists — who generously volunteer their time and expertise. In an effort to make their contributions as accessible as possible, we have created a series of guides, a website, and our iPhone app.

    While it is undoubtable that the conditions of the transport systems need to be updated with much more frequency, and small contributions are surely appreciated by who is using the app, it turns out quite clearly which fields the users are considered less reliable in providing information. Building an open database requires not only more efforts from the developers, but also trust of the community that is going to use the app and that is supposed to subsequently take part in the project. Unfortunately, there is still little crowd-sourcing in art.