You are circling the block yet again, desperately seeking a parking space–and then you remember there’s an app for that. You whip out your phone and pull up Roadify, the high-profile winner of New York City’s second BigApps contest, which is supposed to provide a real-time list of parking spaces near your location. You watch as Roadify loads and quickly discover there are no free parking spaces within a 10-mile radius of where you are currently circling the block. This shouldn’t surprise you because there are usually almost no parking spaces listed in the app, rendering it fairly useless. Then, as you slam on your breaks to avoid hitting a pedestrian, you remember that driving while using your phone is difficult, dangerous, and often illegal.
And this is the app that won?
Undeterred by Roadify’s failure, the city announced the third installment of the BigApps contest in September, in which the city awards $50,000 in cash to the best app that uses city data. So far the first two contests have yielded apps that have received a fair amount of media attention but have lagged in user adoption. Sportify, another winner that garnered a lot of press, also relies on a critical mass of users to function. It, too, is a great idea in principle (find people near you who want to play pickup sports!), which has yet to catch on. All of this is the predictable result of the city’s approach to digital development, which focuses on plenty of sizzle, not much steak. It’s time for the city to deeply explore what New York’s citizens actually need, and the ways in which those citizens are likely to behave.