If there was ever going to be any friendly competition between the Code for America 2011 fellows and this year’s Code for America crew, the sudden appearance of Mayor Michael Nutter at the Code Across America Civic Hackathon on Saturday probably gave the 2012 fellows — Michelle Lee, Liz Hunt, and Alex Yule — an edge.
“When the Mayor shows up at your hackathon, you know that your city has a civic hacking culture,” said Voxeo Labs developer Mark Headd, who judged the demonstrations.
The hackathon was hosted, for the second year, in the offices of Azavea, the geospatial analysis and development firm based in Callowhill. Mayor Nutter’s arrival in the converted factory office might have put the cap on what was already an unconventional hackathon, as numerous participants commented to Technically Philly.
“We have a lot of policy people actually in our group,” said Indy Hall developer and Young Involved Philadelphia board member Salas Saraiya, who was working in a large group focused on crowdsourcing information on vacant lands in Philadelphia. “It’s weird because usually hackathons are 90 percent developers and you really need the subject matter experts, but this one is inverted somehow.”
After a morning of presentations from city officials, approximately 50 attendees offered ideas inspired by the talks that morning and any of their own interests. The crowd split into smaller groups according to the civic data concept each was most interested in working on. Later in the afternoon, as groups began feeling the pressure of their impending demonstrations, cloud-based developer platform Heroku.com went down causing some glitches for groups programming with Ruby on Rails.
Then, hardly 30 minutes before the judged demonstrations, Mayor Nutter stopped in to see what the various groups were hastily building.
“I’m personally a big Code for America supporter. I love the talent, love the creativity, the ideas that come out of this and ultimately many of the solutions,” said Mayor Nutter. “I think that the opportunity to use technology in a very positive way that helps to connect people, solve problems, make the city more accessible, share information, let people know what kind of city Philadelphia really is — that’s something I want to support.”
When the demonstration began, each group was reminded that they had exactly five minutes to present and that winners would be selected by Azavea President Robert Cheetham, Headd, Septa Director of Emerging and Specialty Technology Mike Zaleski, CfA 2011 fellow Aaron Ogle and Yuriy Porytko, cofounder of Seed Philly.
The first place honors went to Lobbying.ph, an application intended to collect details on registered lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbying principals in Philadelphia. The idea was the brainchild of Casey Thomas, who came to the hackathon with the idea in mind, he told Technically Philly. Data for the application came from the City of Philadelphia Board of Ethics.
Here is video of their presentation:
In second place was Philly Computer Centers, an application designed to centralize location information for free public computer centers. Maneesha Sane, of the Mural Arts Program, had been working on collecting public computer center data and the hackathon was a place where she could find programmers, like Derek Mansen and Justin Walgran, to help her build the application, she told Technically Philly.
“If you want to look up something like this you need a computer to find a computer,” Sane said. “The second phase of this is hopefully going to be a mobile app and a text messaging service.”
Here is the video from their presentation:
The Other Philadelphia — an application that uses a person’s Facebook friends to visualize four troubling Philadelphia statistics — was the third place finisher. Inspired by City official Erica Atwood, the app is focused on raising awareness about violent crime victims, the unemployment rate, graduation rates and poverty in Philadelphia, rather than providing a data service.
“We wanted to add a non-depressing stat to it, but we couldn’t get data.” said CfA 2012 fellow Michelle Lee, who was a team member.
Watch the full presentation here:
Below is video of all of the presentations:
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