Alameda Apps Challenge Attracts Local Talent

December 14, 2012 6:00 am PDT | Effective Governing, Open Data

Last Saturday, December 8, I served as a judge at Alameda County’s first-ever hackathon. I was honored to be there and expected at least a few local people would show up and give some apps a starting effort. To my surprise, a lot of people showed up and several apps were nearly completed before the day’s end. The program was a super success.

Castro_Valley_Library_Chris_1

Hosted at the beautiful, ecologically-friendly Castro Valley Library, the event really stood out in a crowded landscape of hackathons:

1. Organized. I’ve never seen a hackathon run so smoothly. Teams knew where they needed to be for what, kickoff and presentations started on time, and their execution was almost flawless.

2. Great local turnout. It’s not surprising to see a big turnout at a hackathon in the tech-heavy Bay Area. I’d expected to see a bunch of “ringers” come in from San Francisco, but the event was attended almost exclusively by East Bay residents, most of them from within Alameda County. And probably a quarter of them were super-enthusiastic students from local high schools. All told, 24 teams presented at the end of event, a huge turnout.

3. Productive. The majority of the teams were actually able to build a workable app and demonstrate it in five to six hours. If you’ve been to enough hackathons you’ll be impressed by this – it’s actually pretty rare to have so many teams be able to make real progress during the actual event. It just goes to show how well organized everything was – teams were able to settle right in and work.

Serving as a Judge

During the event kickoff, I presented a quick overview of how to use the Socrata-hosted APIs Alameda County had made available for the event. I then coached teams throughout the morning, bouncing between groups and helping them get started.

In the afternoon, I shifted from teaching participants about the APIs to helping them prep for their presentations and hone their pitches. Demos lasted from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. and we announced the award winners at 6:30. Making it through 24 demos in a hour and a half was pretty impressive by itself.

And The Winner Is…

Who won? While every participant is a winner in my book, we did have to figure out how to distribute the $5000 in prize money. After much deliberation and some tense negotiation, we managed to agree on the following winners:

1. BOOKIT!

Found a book you want to read? Before you buy it online or borrow your friend’s copy, BookIt! helps you quickly find it at the library. You use your smartphone to scan the barcode on a book. The app then searches the Alameda County library system, displays the availability of the book, and allows you to reserve it at the local library branch.

Winners_1

2. ACPR FINDER

Whether you’d rather swim, play frisbee or hike next Saturday, ACPR FINDER helps you find the nearest and best park for you. The map interface not only lists all parks and recreation locations in Alameda County but you can search for the sites that include specific features like playgrounds, hiking trails, basketball courts, etc.

Winners_2

Impressively, Team ACPR was one of the teams from Castro Valley High School. We’d actually considered a special “honorable mention” category for the high school teams, but we didn’t need to! I’m looking forward to seeing where these kids end up!

3. SNAPMapper!

This app is described as “Yelp for food stamp users.” It helps people using food stamps make the most of their funds by searching for stores by location, pricing or products offered. Users can rate stores, comment about types of food available and identify vendors with the worst deals or that they feel should not qualify to accept SNAP, the new USDA name for food stamps.

You might think that writing a smartphone app for low-income users would be a bit misguided. But surprisingly, many people with lower incomes, and those most likely to need government assistance like food stamps, are choosing smart phones over paying for internet access on a computer. Because of this trend, apps for those in lower income brackets might be in high demand.

Keep on coding,

Chris Metcalf

Socrata, Inc.


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