Another application contest (Apps My State) of the endless series started by AppsForDemocracy in DC back in 2008 ended this week in Victoria, Australia. This has been presumably the biggest contest so far in terms of prize size (35,000 AUD for the winner and good prizes for runner-ups too).
The winner was Which Bin, an application available over the web or for iPhone, which allows a consumer to know where to dispose of a given product. The iPhone apps provide a bar code scan through the camera, and uses the user location to advice which (type of) bin to use. The web application requires to type the numeric code that is below the barcode and the postal code of the location.
While this looks like a great idea, it has a few shortcomings. First of all not all products have a numeric code associated to the barcode (I just have a couple of used ink cartridges in front of me for which this is the case). Second, the application does not provide a complete product database but allows the “community” to build the database: if the product is not in the database, the user is asked to provide details and add to the database. I tried three products (all purchased in Australia) and none of them was in the database.
Now it is quite likely that there are people who are so keen about the environment to spend the time required to fill the product form on their laptop or iPhone. But I would argue that the majority will just be put off by the effort required and throw the product wherever they feel makes most sense.
The second prize went to Transportle, which allows you to compare different transportation options between two locations, in terms of time, price and carbon footprint. I tried it for Melbourne to Canberra and it did not even find a train option, nor did it suggest a flight. At first glance, this looks like something that should be relatively easy to do mashing up with Google Maps, where you already have time and exact route. In reality it provides many other functions, especially in the area of detailed cost and impact analysis, which may be useful to commuters and heavy travelers.
Other prizes went to applications reporting to crime watch organizations, providing easy access to train timetables, location of street markets, and so forth. Some went to applications that – at least at first sight – have little to do with government data, but can still be interesting personal tools for Victorian citizens (such as a reminder application).
These are all great ideas, but in most cases far from being ready for prime time. The winner app, for example, requires a complete product database and would not be sustainable as a community example. For this contest, as well as for many others around the world, the real challenge – like for almost anything web 2.0 – is to find a business model that makes applications sustainable over time, without increasing the cost for government.