Pittsburghers invited to develop apps at 'Steel City Codefest'

Developers to work at Google's Larimer office for 24 hours

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There's no foretelling what might happen when 100 tech-savvy and creative Pittsburghers are bivouacked in Google's Larimer offices with about 24 hours to let their imaginations run wild.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl aims to find out, though.

Mr. Ravenstahl, Google, the University of Pittsburgh and other partners today will announce plans for the "Steel City Codefest," a competition to develop the coolest, most-useful apps for city residents, businesses and visitors.

The competition "builds off of Pittsburgh's strong spirit of innovation, collaboration and competition" and provides an opportunity to "improve our city's tech climate," Mr. Ravenstahl said in a statement.

Consider it a high-tech version of reality television's "Cupcake Wars" or "Project Runway."

In all, 100 participants will begin work at Google offices at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 23. They may eat, shower and nap -- if they care to take time for such minutiae -- at Google. The thinking caps come off at 10 a.m. Feb. 24.

Then the judging begins. Apps will be evaluated according to how well they meet a community need, technical sophistication, user-friendliness and artistic merit. Several prizes will be awarded, but officials hope that the city and its people will be the real winners.

Registration begins today at www.steelcitycodefest.org. Participants may work alone or in teams of up to six people. Only the first 100 people to sign up will be able to take part.

In other cities, similar competitions, sometimes called "hackathons," yielded apps to help users find bicycle routes, public transit and stores that accept food stamps, said Bob Gradeck, research specialist with Pitt's University Center for Social and Urban Research.

Mr. Gradeck said he would like to see an app that lets prospective home buyers see school feeder patterns, but the sky is the limit. "I think there could be some really neat possibilities," he said.

Creators retain ownership rights to their apps, though the website urges participants to share their inventions. Some apps might die, Mr. Gradeck said, while others become business opportunities or get adopted by a government agency or nonprofit.

"If the app's good enough, it will find a way to keep going," he said.

One of Pittsburgh's best known apps is ParkPGH, established by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in 2010 to provide real-time information on parking space availability in Downtown garages. Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy now is working on an app that will provide navigational mapping in Pittsburgh's five regional parks.

Mr. Ravenstahl, noting the city has "some great minds," said he would like to see more brilliant ideas. The competition is an outgrowth of PowerUp Pittsburgh, his initiative to grow the city's tech economy.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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