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Summary:

The U.S. Army is launching an “Apps For The Army” competition aimed at developing mobile and web-based applications. A joint venture with iStrategyLabs, the contest involves 100 teams competing over a two-week period for a total of $30,000 in cash awards, overseen by the Army’s CIO.

If you work for the U.S. Army and spend all your spare time hacking the iPhone and Android or fooling around with HTML5, this is a contest for you: The Army’s Chief Information Office is launching a competition aimed at mobile and web apps, with cash awards totaling $30,000 and the chance to get your application the military seal of approval. The contest is a joint venture with iStrategyLabs, and is based on that company’s successful Apps For Democracy project, which was a joint venture with the Washington, D.C.’s Office of the CTO in 2008.

iStrategyLabs founder and CEO Peter Corbett describes on the company’s blog how the contest will work. It starts with a press conference and media (and blogger) roundtable on March 3 at the Pentagon with Lieutenant General Jeffery Sorenson (the Army’s chief information officer) and runs until May 15th. A total of 100 teams will be selected to compete for one or more of 40 cash awards totaling $30,000. Awards will be announced in June, with public demonstrations. The competition comes with a software repository (forge.mil), a cloud-based development sandbox, a collaboration space designed around an Apps for the Army group on MilBook (the Army’s version of Facebook) and a Twitter hashtag: #apps4army.

Corbett says the idea for the project came from O’Reilly Media founder and CEO Tim O’Reilly, who said on Twitter after announcing the competition that he had hoped to get the rest of the U.S. military involved as well, but wound up only getting the Army on board. The Army has been making some significant strides in the areas of social media over the past year or two, including the launch of CIO Sorenson’s Twitter account, which the lieutenant-general posts to himself (in contrast to many other government departments). It also recently released a surprisingly forward-thinking social media policy.

Lt.-Gen. Sorenson said in a statement released by the Army today that “We’re building a culture of collaboration among our Army community to encourage smarter, better and faster technical solutions to meet operational needs. Soldiers and Army civilians will be creating new mobile and web applications of value for their peers — tools that enhance warfighting effectiveness and business productivity today. And we’re rewarding their innovation with recognition and cash.” Or, as Craigslist founder Craig Newmark described it in a blog post: “A lot of people in the Army know stuff and want to serve more effectively.” Well said, Craig.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

The App Developers’ Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform

Post photo courtesy of iStrategyLabs, thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user Dunechaser

  1. What is humorous is that $30k is probably the lunch bill for the agency of record, or the cost of a fully equipped uniform for desert combat.

    Does this give an indication of the perceived value by the military?

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    1. That’s a fair point, Nicholas — although I think it’s great that the military is experimenting and trying to promote creativity from within its ranks.

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    2. The $30K price tag probably helps winnow the the developers down to the ones who are passionate about it — the kind of folks who would code for free if money didn’t matter. The Army’s also going to get a whole pile of really creative ideas, any one of which is going to be worth more than the cash prizes. Frankly, I think that’s a pretty good bang for the buck.

      And I bet that when the other branches of the military see how well this approach works for the Army, they’ll jump on board as well.

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