Standing in front of a vast wall of monitors at the IAC headquarters on Manhattan's West side, there was a moment when the whole data thing made sense.
There was Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a man who's eponymous terminals sit on the desk of just about every financial executive on the planet, beaming from ear to ear. What was he grinning about? He had launched a project just months ago to see if he could turn one of New York's latest, but in some ways least understood, exports into an industry.
Michael Bloomberg, the man who made his fortune managing data, is now leading the nation by giving away a firehose of data about New York City to young hungry developers who are looking for data to turn into products.
The concept, the New York City Big Apps Competition, was a risky for Bloomberg on many levels. First of all, there was a question about just how many developers there were that had the time and inclination to turn the data into apps. This kind of thing works well in Silicon Valley, but did New York have the talent and the entrepreneural drive to get fired up?
Well, it appears from the crowd at the awards ceremony, and the staggering number of seriously good apps, that the answer is yes. New York IS a tech town, now we know that for sure.
The next question was -- what would happen if some of that data was embarrassing to the City? After all, among the 170 feeds that were set loose; data about government spending, police statistics, school performance even the location and relative health of the citys trees. What if all those data crunchers found trends that were embarrassing or uncovered waste and fraud in some way.
Bloomberg seemed unconcerned. After all, as someone at the ceremony pointed out from the stage, it's OUR data. Hmm... now that's interesting, isn't it? It's our data about our government, spending our money, to achieve what we hope are goals and objectives that WE have voted them into office to achieve.
I, for one, really like the idea that it's my data. I paid for it. It tells me how my city is doing. And it helps all of us better understand what we can and should do to make the city a better place.
That's why Bloomberg is grinning. Because, as a man who was able to amass a fortune by understanding the power and value of data, he's now in a place where he can make real change in how City government works by setting free the citys data streams. With any luck, there are developers and entrepreneurs in the audience who will make fortunes of their own by turning public data into usable applications that give citizens better access to city services and New York's vast urban resources.
If you had any doubt of just how juicy and valuable city data was, all you need do is look at the winners of what will now be an annual competition.
Grand Prize: WayFinder NYC
Data Set(s) used: NJ PATH data
Find the nearest and best directions to New York City subway and NJ Path stations on your Android phone. Way to go! Wayfinder, NYC's augmented reality app, is designed to help you locate the subway and PATH stations nearest you.
Second Prize Taxihack
Data Set(s) used: Current Medallion Drivers & Current Medallions
Taxihack allows users to post live comments on NYC taxis and their drivers via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@taxihack). Users send messages to the system, including either the medallion number (like 1A23) or the driver's number (located on the driver's id visible in the backseat)
Third Prize Big Apple Ed
Data Set(s) used: School Search (NYC DOE)
Finding a school in New York City is hard. We're here to help! We have a school search, top ten lists, charming analyses, comparison charts and detailed school profiles to help you every step of the way.
Investor's Choice Award: NYC Way: 30+ NYC iPhone Apps in One
Data Set(s) used: Electronics Stores, Restaurant inspection results, Weekday Traffic Updates, Weekend Traffic Updates, Directory of Hiking Trails, Directory of Ice Skating Rinks, Directory of Nature Centers, Directory of Recreation Centers, Directory of Swimming Pools, Directory of Zoos and Aquariums, Fire and Medical Response Times FY2009, Cultural center, Library Locations, Post Office Locations, Wifi Hotspot Locations
NYC Way is an iPhone application that bundles a variety of NYC resources useful for locals and tourists alike. Experience the power of 30+ NYC related iPhone apps packaged into one.
NYC Big Apps is a BIG deal. It ratifies the important place that New York is becoming in the tech world. It makes New York's data real, visible, and potentially lucrative for entrepreneurs. And it reminds us that our Mayor may be the most technologically engaged of any politician in office today. That's saying something.
You can check out and download the winning apps here.
Follow Steve Rosenbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/waaywire