A startup called Wordnik has been amassing a huge collection of words (8 million so far) and information about those words — definitions, histories, examples of usage, statistics, and more. Now founder and chief executive Erin McKean is asking developers to build applications with that data. She’s launching a contest with prizes for the coolest apps.

Wordnik released its first application programming interfaces (APIs) allowing developers to use its data around six months ago, McKean said, and that has already led to the creation of a Wordnik Android app. But McKean wants to draw more attention to the possibilities of Wordnik as a source of data.

One obvious option is to add Wordnik’s data as a dictionary for your app, but there are more creative possibilities too. For example, McKean said she’d be excited to see Wordnik powering word games that use players’ knowledge of words and their meanings. As another example, she pointed to developers who showed off their image-morphing technology using words generated by the company’s Random Word API.

“We want to be the little spark of creativity or word use to get somebody going,” she said.

McKean added that the other goals of the contest are to get more feedback on the data that Wordnik offers so far and to see if there are other APIs the Burlingame, Calif., company should be building. If a developer requests an API and the company thinks it’s both doable and exciting, Wordnik might even add it before the contest ends.

Wordnik has raised a little over $4M from Roger and Ann McNamee, Steve Anderson of Baseline, MDV-Mohr Davidow Ventures, Maples Investments, Radar Partners, and SV Angel. It is still exploring possible business models, McKean said, but charging developers who make money from its data would be one possibility.

Submissions for the contest are due on May 21, and winners will be announced on June 6. Here are the contest details:

What: Wordnik’s Developer Challenge will reward the most interesting, productive, and fun uses of its API. Prizes will be awarded in a handful of categories:

  • Education
  • Games
  • Business and Productivity

Have a brilliant idea that doesn’t fit into one of the categories? Submit it, we’ll consider all entrants for “best in show”.

Bonus Points
We encourage apps in some specific areas, so extra credit will be rewarded for entries in any category that take advantage of:

  • eReader integration
  • Google Apps integration
  • Mobile platforms or technologies

That said, a cool idea well implemented trumps all — we appreciate creativity.

Prizes

  • $2,000 “Best in show” prize
  • $1,000 “Best of breed” prize in each category
  • $250 prizes for cool apps we like
  • Schwag for everyone!

In addition, all award-winning entries will be publicized and promoted on Wordnik.com and its channels. All prizes are in USD, and are awarded at our sole discretion.

Timeline

  • April 16: Wordnik 2010 API Developer Challenge announced
  • May 3rd: Submission site opens, developers can submit entries
  • May 5th: API Dev meetup: intro to the API, 6:00pm San Mateo. Snacks and beer!
  • May 18th: API Dev meetup: hackathon 6:00pm San Mateo. Snacks and beer!
  • May 21, 6:00pm PDT: Submissions site closes, all entries due

  • June 4: Winners announced.