April 14, 2011 - 10:38 am
By Clay Johnson | Partner, Big Window Labs

The Knight Foundation and the FCC are putting on a contest called Apps for Communities to improve civic connectivity and services in cities and towns across the United States. The goal is to create apps that use publicly available data to help people in communities across the country – for example, by giving them information on public transportation, health care, or other public services. Similar contests like Washington, DC's "Apps for Democracy" and New York City's "BigApps" have been notable successes. The only problem is that a lot of smaller towns don't have the kinds of communities or the budgets to put contests like these together. Apps for Communities takes location out of the equation-- we're looking for developers to use technology and data to help improve access to services in any community across the country.

This challenge is an effort to drive the great technical skills we have in our country out into our local communities. A particular goal is to build new applications to improve access for people who struggle with accessing information and services online: Seniors, non-English speakers, people who are uncomfortable with technology, and others. This contest seeks to bring the value of broadband to people who are, up until now, less likely to be online.
 
Personally, I'm excited about this. I live in Washington, DC but come from a family based in Albany, GA. I'd love to see how technology can be used to improve services there. Local solutions across the country can be replicated, and if we focus on building technology that can solve problems and improve access in our communities, the new tools can be used again and again in cities nationwide. Make no mistake -- this can change the way our country works.
 
So take a look at the contest, now up at Challenge.gov, and think about how you can use your skills to change your neighborhood or community - wherever you may be.