Tonight, New York City Crowns Its Best New App! But Will It Be the Racist One?

Tonight, Big Bill de Blasio awards the winners in the NYC BigApps competition. That’s a project of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. With mentors and judges from many, if not “all” walks of life, this project is one of the few rare ways that New York City might actually help a small business, while also helping to improve the lives of New Yorkers, or even making the city a better place in general. Cash prizes go to the best apps created out of city data.

But Mayor Bill will be treading on dangerous ground. Will the judges set him up for a disaster? Because among some great ideas and great executions in the finalist pool are some real nightmares. For instance, the infamous and much-derided app SketchFactor is actually a finalist in this program. Yeah, that’s the thing that lets various forms of app-using gentrifiers rate neighborhoods for just how uncomfortable they feel whilst passing through.

Certainly less evil — even good at heart! — but still as annoying is Reported, which was founded by a man who was unhappy that people don’t complain about taxis enough. (“There are 175 million NYC cab trips each year. Yet only 13,000 consumer complaints in 2013 about drivers,” is how his mission statement begins. Uh… huh.) He’s written an incredibly detailed piece (on Medium, of course) about how he kept a spreadsheet about all the cabs honking outside his house. He gives himself away early on when he says that Uber is a great experience because of the constant rider surveillance. His New York of the future: we’re all narcs, and we’re all customers.

I mean look, none of us want evil, racist and stupid cab drivers. We can all get behind this. But we already have an app for honking cabs. You lean in their window and yell “Shut the fuck up, asshole.”

Then there’s this thing that helps rich people use less electricity (who cares!) by turning down their Teslas and Nests. I mean… sure.

But the good news is that it’s certainly not all obnoxious “citizen as customer” proposals, so Mayor de Tall-io (yeah I’m still working on a nickname) has a chance of not humiliating himself tonight. Even when it technically is about “serving the citizen,” though, there’s good uses; why wouldn’t you want to be notified when you have new or overdue parking tickets, for instance? And building a user-friendly mobile-based front-end on food stamp assistance is actually a great idea. Why not have a global activities list for people with kids? A teacher collaboration network? Absolutely. And this app about heat complaints could be a great thing, instead of a tool for making New York City into a desiccated suburb. I even like this learn more about your water app. Water’s the thing we’re going to miss most when the terrorists take out the Delaware Aqueduct, after all.