NYC’s Best App contest: where’s the bed bug transparency?

by nobugsonme on December 15, 2009 · 4 comments

in bed bug research, bed bugs, new york city

Wired reports today in its Epicenter blog about the NYC BigApps contest, which allows you to vote for any of 85 applications; the BigApps site says it’s

A software challenge in keeping with New York City’s drive to become more transparent, accessible, and accountable.

That’s all good, right?

The prizes include thousands of dollars and an invitation to dinner with Mayor Bloomberg.

One of the apps Wired reports on is RentSleuth:

RentSleuth uses the city’s street condition data to track crime, potholes, graffiti, trash, sewer complaints, subway coverage, bedbug reports and so on. (Yes, New York has a bedbug problem. Bigtime.)

Of course, that bed bug data is fairly limited, as noted here.

Switching the “Show bed bugs” button on RentSleuth to “on” shows a bed bug icon in various locales, but not everywhere.

And let’s get real: bed bugs are in every neighborhood in NYC.  The city needs to find better ways of tracking and sharing such information with residents, in the interests of transparency, accountability, and accessibility.

Another app sure may make your bed bug 311 report more interesting, for those of you who can get a camera photo shot of your bed bugs:

Snap311 lets you report a problem to the city’s 311 service (like 911 for non-emergency situations) by snapping a shot with your cameraphone, rather than using the phone part of your phone to call 311.

Although it’s pretty hard to get a shot of bed bugs (and even moreso on a camera phone with fewer megapixels), this seems like a useful app for other purposes.

The BigApps contest is a joint initiative of joint initiative of New York City Economic Development Corporation and the New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications, and encourages people to create software which makes use of the NYC Data Mine.

Technology gives us a lot of possibilities, but to get things off the ground, you need the data.

Update (12/15): in our comments below, RentSleuth creator Jeff Refesz clarifies that the RentSleuth bed bug information comes from

. . . a number of sources outside of the NYC data mine, including the Bed Bug Registry.

Even better, it’s a mashup of Craigslist apartments for rent, and bed bug reports:

What we have done is not only mapped them, but made them automatically appear next to all of the latest craigslist postings. The idea was that you can use RentSleuth as your craigslist search, and it will tell you if there are bedbugs in the apartment before you even check out the listing.

I love the mashup idea!

Unfortunately, the data is still rather limited, as I note in the comments; many people do not know the Bed Bug Registry exists, or simply choose not to list their infestations there.  I hope in future NYC will provide much better data (though it would impossible to have perfectly comprehensive data).  And in the meantime, I encourage people to consider posting their infestations to the Bed Bug Registry — and to also note when the problem is solved.

This app is a really neat idea, though.

I wish Jeff luck with his application in the BestApp competition, and beyond!

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1 Jeff Revesz December 15, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Hi, I’m the RentSleuth creator. Actually, we have bedbugs data from a number of sources outside of the NYC data mine, including http://bedbugregistry.com/

What we have done is not only mapped them, but made them automatically appear next to all of the latest craigslist postings. The idea was that you can use RentSleuth as your craigslist search, and it will tell you if there are bedbugs in the apartment before you even check out the listing.

Though overall I agree, the city data was totally not what it could have been…

2 nobugsonme December 16, 2009 at 1:02 am

Hi Jeff!

Thanks so much for your clarifying comment. Adding the data from the Bed Bug Registry is a big help.

Unfortunately, it also is very limited, since it relies on people posting their own infestations (and going back to note when they’re gone). Most people do not know about the Bed Bug Registry, and some who do know about it don’t use it for whatever reason.

Combining all available data on bed bug infestations is definitely a good thing, but we hope that soon NYC will have much better data available. (And, of course, we do encourage people to use the Bed Bug Registry!)

I really like the mashup of Craigslist apartment ads and Bed Bug Registry information, though people should beware that the lack of a bed bug complaint does not mean there are no bed bugs in any particular apartment listed. (Conversely, the presence of a complaint also does not mean bed bugs are still present at that location.)

3 Debbie December 16, 2009 at 4:42 am

Jeff and NOBUGSOME – genius idea!

I work in the bed bug industry, and this is one of the best additions we’ve had in a while. Thanks for the idea and for the write up.

4 nobugsonme February 9, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Alas, neither RentSleuth nor Snap311 were winners; the winners have just been announced.

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