Summary:

While it’s just an average ride sharing app, the value in Trees for Cars lies in its compelling story.

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“If I Had a Dollar” is a series that highlights one useful or entertaining app per week that costs less than $1. Skip your vending machine soda and try some new apps!

The purpose of this weekly feature, if it isn’t already painfully obvious, is to get users to rethink the value of the dollar, and to use it as a gateway to other tools they may not have thought to access from a mobile phone. And while I want to stress that a dollar is often more than just a dollar, sometimes an app is more than just an app.

Trees for CarsFrom a strictly critical standpoint, there isn’t much that’s original or exciting about Trees for Cars. Its overall goal — ride sharing — is a collaborative consumption staple that has already been saturated by companies like Lyft and Sidecar. Compared to those apps, or even most apps in general, it’s very bare bones: its simple log-in system leads to a series of forms, and then a direct results list that says whether or not a ride request can be fulfilled. It’s an average app, but its quality isn’t what catapulted it to the top 10 downloaded paid apps on iTunes and more than 130 five-star reviews on Google Play on its launch day.

It’s the story behind the app that matters.

Cars for Trees was developed by Leo Grand, a homeless New York man who, after receiving an ultimatum of $100 in cash or coding lessons, spent months learning Javascript and now calls himself a “Journeyman Hacker,” according to CNN. In concert with 23-year-old Noodle engineer Patrick McConlogue, Grand released his app for both iPhone and Android, and will receive the proceeds from its sales.

It’s easy to argue that Cars for Trees is a representation of the optimistic, meritocratic libertarian ideal that runs rampant through the tech community (which frequently contradicts its much more insular, privilege-focused reality), but it’s also hard to ignore Grand’s own pluck. There’s a certain feeling when downloading the app, that the purchase is a part of a bigger story than just ride sharing, and that’s ultimately where the value lies. It sounds schmaltzy, but the dollar in this case isn’t for the app itself, but for the developer behind it, and his passion is what will ultimately make this  purchase worthwhile.

Trees for Cars is available for download via the iTunes App Store and Google Play.

Do you have an app that is worth my dollar? Send it to me at lauren.hockenson@gigaom.com with “Dollar App” and the app’s name in the subject line.

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