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Do you think you have the programming chops to impress some of the biggest names in the open public data movement?

Google is offering up the application programming interface (API) that powers its “Places” data as the basis for a new apps development challenge involving participants from around the world.

The Places API Developer Challenge tasks developers to utilize open data from cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, New York City, London and others, as well as Google’s global database of more than 95 million “Places” — information that helps power Google Maps.  The Places API includes location search data; points of interest, user check-in data; and submitted reviews for restaurants and other establishments.

Carlos Cuesta, marketing manager of the Google Maps API, said the Google Places API adds contextual data with geolocation information tagged to it. For example, if you’re eating at a restaurant and post to social media a photo of your meal, that picture can be tagged with the restaurant’s location.

Cuesta said that type of concept could be expanded further with large amounts of city data that put that locational context within new apps.

Sabra Schneider, Seattle’s director of electronic communications, said the Google challenge should help developers create more Seattle-focused apps in verticals such as public safety, education, environment and transportation.

“The core data sets will stay the same, but how folks can integrate them with Places — I think has a great deal of potential … with more people utilizing the data and providing easier access to it,” Schneider said.

Jay Nath, San Francisco’s chief innovation officer, said in a video from Google that “community assets” like shelters, post offices and parks, the challenge can help extend assets the city has to community.

Nath is listed as one of the contest’s judges, as is John Tolva, the CTO of Chicago.

"What I would love to see is a truly holistic, multimodal sort of transportation or how do I get from point A to point B, what are all my options? Tolva said in the video. With the Google Places API you could know things like the status of a street being cleaned. The company's API should be useful for that kind of real-time, hyperlocal information, Tolva said.

Cuesta cited another example: a case study where crime data from a city was overlaid with liquor store locations. The data revealed that certain types of crime typically occur near liquor stores — valuable information that can be used for further analysis.

Not Another Hackathon

Although Google’s API Challenge shares some elements with a traditional app “hackathon,” Cuesta said the differentiator is the contest’s scope and time frame. Local app development contests typically are held in one location during a day or weekend. Google opened its call for entries on Wednesday, Aug. 15 and will run through Oct. 31.

Google also invited 10 cities and the White House to participate in the event.

Cuesta said by expanding the parameters of the challenge, developers and other participants can better use their imagination.

“One of the things we wanted to do with the challenge is keep it relatively open so that people can have free range and a lot of latitude to figure out what will be better and think of new ideas,” Cuesta said. “We didn’t want to create a problem definition that was confined or constricted on what we were looking for.”

A winner will be chosen by a panel of judges consisting of Google staff and CIOs of the cities that have partnered with Google for the challenge. The winner will receive an inviation to attend Google’s 2013 I/O developer conference along with a travel stipend. Runners-up get tablets and other goodies.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.