NYC Youth Hackers Use Open Data

July 2, 2013 2:23 pm PST | Data as a Service

Last weekend, dozens of young hackers and coders took part in an age 18-and-under open data hackathon known as Young Rewired State – New York City.  Young Rewired State (YRS) is the youth-focused branch of Rewired State, a network of software developers, engineers and civic activists based in the United Kingdom. YRS New York City, held at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, was YRS’ first-ever youth coding event held abroad, and precedes similar events to be held in Berlin, Joannesburg, Aarhaus and San Francisco later this year.  

Volunteer mentors with design, coding, or data experience also attended the event, assisting teams throughout the weekend with idea refinement, code debugging, and beautification. (There was even a graphics bar staffed by graphic designers delivered turnkey, web-ready images for those teams who requested them.) Mentors included teachers, professional software developers, and members of Mozilla’s Hive, a local youth education outreach group that also co-sponsored the event.  

Photo Credit: flickr/HiveLearningNYC
Photo Credit: flickr/HiveLearningNYC

As if coding on a deadline wasn’t stressful enough, each team had to present their project to a crowded auditorium with slides and demos running on a 50-foot screen. Fortunately, also on the agenda were lightning talks on presentation content and style. 

The teams were required to use NYC’s Open Data sets ( to address a real-world problem.  So what did these young coders come up with?

An app called CityScenes took best in show, mashing up NYC’s landmarks dataset with Citibike’s bike share stations on a Google Map. When a user selects a starting bike sharing station, the app presents a route that takes the rider by nearby landmarks.  

WiFood took NYC’s Wifi Dataset, filtered it for restaurants, then used Yelp’s API to add pricing and food ratings.  Need to grab a bite and get online?  Now you know which way to head.

Photo Credit: Flickr/HiveLearningNYC
Photo Credit: Flickr/HiveLearningNYC

My favorite was an amazing little hack called Rotten Potatoes. This Twilio-powered platform allows people without smartphones to access IMDB info via SMS.  Simply text the name of the movie to 347-960-4143 (Go ahead and try it, it works!) and it will return a plot summary and rating from the IMDB API.  (While it didn’t incorporate open government data, it did address issues of the digital divide.)

Also in the mix were hardware hackers creating a “powerglove” that mimics keystrokes, an app that locates the closest public recycle bin, an app that helps you find a safer route to the subway by avoiding areas of reported crime, and many more.  Detailed results are available at  We look forward to seeing more amazing, kid-made, open data-powered tech projects at YRS’ future events.

Review the weekend’s twitter buzz at hashtag #yrsnyc.

Chris Whong is a Data Solutions Architect for Socrata, helping governments and citizens realize the potential of open data in their communities.  He is an active member of the civic tech community in New York City, and is a mapping and dataviz enthusiast.

Previous ArticleBaltimore Inner Harbor
Data Apps & Visualization, Data as a Service, Effective Governing
Q & A with Baltimore CitiStat’s Chad Kenney

July 15, 2013