Non-hackers and Hackers Wanted: Ottawa Re-launches Apps4Ottawa Contest


Have you ever caught yourself wishing you had some information about city services at your fingertips and thinking, I wish there was an app for that? Well, lucky for you, the City of Ottawa just launched its second App contest and even if you've never coded a line in your life, you can submit your own brilliant app idea!

The City's last app contest ran in late 2010. The winning app was was an Ottawa Guide from which users could take a photo of an Ottawa landmark or building, and automatically obtain contextual information from a variety of sources.

The 2013 Apps4Ottawa Contest launched last Monday and runs until May in two waves:

Not a hacker? No problem!

I recently gave a presentation about how hacking is a mindset, not a skillset. By that I mean, hacking in the true sense of the word — thinking outside the box and looking at problems in new or unique ways — is more about changing your thinking than producing something. It's about not letting yourself be confined by how you've always done things, and allowing yourself to be creative in your approach to problem solving.

Although you might not be a developer or a hacker by any stretch of the imagination, you are still a user of public services and — chances are — you have an opinion about how to make them better. The City of Ottawa gets that. In fact they have designed this first part of the contest specifically around it: the Idea Jam is essentially an app brainstorming exercise. Before anyone starts building anything at all, they want to know what you — the residents — want from your city.

So, think about it: What kind of app would make your life a little, if a whole lot, better? There are 4 categories of apps: On the Move, Having Fun, Your City and Data Analysis and Visualizations.
  • Do you want to be able to check garbage service on your phone (especially now with bi-weekly pickup)?
  • Do you want to know when the next bus is coming? (yes, you do apparently, because this one keeps getting proposed in a variety of formats, and there are a number of apps that deliver this service already including my fave, OC Bus Tracker from my colleague, Sean Kibbee).
  • Or how about my dream app: one that would tell me when the snow plow is coming so I don't go out and shovel the driveway only to have to do it again twenty minutes later when the plow delivers a two foot high, four foot deep snowbank to the end of my driveway.
See? I'm sure you can think of a few of your own.

Or if you don't have your own idea, head over to the Idea Jam site and review the suggestions that have already been made and then vote for your favorite. Interestingly, the top two ideas currently listed as I write this are a bus tracker and the Ottawa guide. Seriously, people, we have a fantastic one and the other already won the contest, so can we please infuse some originality in our thinking?? (Granted, maybe Sean should submit his bus app since it rocks.)

Developers, Developers, Developers

Naturally, I haven't forgotten about you; you're the ones who will bring our ideas to fruition! Here's a quick run-down of what you need to know:
  • You can build for any platform, not just mobile
  • You have to use at least one City of Ottawa Data Set
  • Your app can be in English or French (or both)
  • You remain the owner of your app (monetization FTW!)
  • Your app will be judged on its utility, support of city priorities (so you might want to do a little homework), ease of use and creativity
  • You can win CASH: the top 3 apps in each category get monetary prizes, up to $3000.
  • There are additional prizes for the top student and people's choice apps, so you can really bankroll if you win in multiple categories.
  • And... if you build in Windows 8, you have the opportunity to win even MORE prizes: the four most popular Win8 apps get cash bonus prizes. (Yes, Microsoft is a sponsor :)
Check the Apps4Ottawa site for full details.

So there you go. What are you waiting for? Get thinking, get coding!

[Aside: And if you're so inclined, drop me a line and let me know about your app and I might feature it here.]