Celebrating OpenData day

The first open data, weekend long hackathon took place in my hometown Cluj these days. It was advertised as welcoming a very diverse crowd: programmers, but also activists, journalists and interested citizens. So I went, opting to choose a project to work on onsite rather than put forward an idea. Around 45 people and 12 projects were submitted, from mapping usable local bicycle routes (Cluj has only 10km of highly disconnected bike trails!), to scraping datasets from the Romanian open government portal, to visualizations of local pharmacies to figure out which one is the closest to you and open at any time.

Most people who showed up were very young passionate programmers, fond of building apps in general, and (understandably) a minority of which were familiar with open data per se. I can’t imagine a better pretext for learning about open source and licensing than building an event in a format that is as trendy as the hackathon format.

My non-tech skills didn’t seem to be of particular use to any team, even after specifically offering my help, so in a tiny sub-team I took on the more general task of documentation and research: tracking down former local, general purpose hackathons (all tech based) to dig deeper and see which of the projects and apps took off in the follow up. Not much surprise here, it turns out almost none that we could get hold of made it so far… Personal hypotheses for that and in case we needed them, more arguments for Edgeryders moving on with our own version of hackathons as being harmonious:

  1. Hackathons are creating a lot of momentum and buzz, pulling lots of private resources yet incentivizing little follow up.

  2. They are framed mostly as competitive, prize winning events and less as collaborative events fostering solid team building.

  3. Programmers are the core target and so accommodating other skills becomes difficult, no pun intended. Their lack of means projects will fail to build strong communication, marketing and community around them.

Maybe I’m wrong, but does someone else have positive project examples from the hackathons you’ve been attending?

There is much to learn regarding inclusiveness and real diversity when building “open” hackathons, but there is something humbling in watching coders taking on the hardest tasks and literally burying themselves in data for 48hrs. They are heroes and make one fall in love with technology. Even from afar.

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