Mobile hackathon – April 28, 2012

Mobile hackathon – April 28, 2012

*Note: Take a look at these tips for prioritizing mobile functionality from Hackathon judge Amy Gahran. 

The Center for Public Interest Journalism (CPIJ) is working with local news and community organizations to identify ways mobile platforms and tools might serve their communities.   These include:

  • finding ways to share, aggregate, and curate content from news organizations’ websites and social media on mobile devices
  • identifying data sets (city/state data, public info online) which lend themselves to easy info-sharing via mobile phones, and often linked with your location or need for info on the go
  • creating infographics or data display to tell a story about your community

CPIJ is inviting ideas for projects to be worked on at a News Hackathon on April 28th, 2012 (the link is no longer available:, which will be an intensive day-long opportunity for journalists, community leaders and technologists to work together to produce tools for immediate use by participants and the general public.  See schedule for the News Hackathon and Barcamp News Innovation.

Participants not fully involved in the hackathon process are encouraged to attend Barcamp News Innovation (in the same building) or to float between both events.  All attendees are welcome to observe the hackathon and hopefully get a sense of how they might participate in the future.  Read more about the hackathon experience from a journalist’s perspective here and about the relationship between hacking and journalism here.

Examples of past projects produced by hackathons:

  • Connect Philly: which maps the locations of free wireless internet hotspots in Philly and has a text message tool to find the nearest location by texting an address to 215-240-7296.
  • a tool to find the nearest store that takes food stamp benefits, including farmers markets and other providers of fresh fruits and vegetables, by texting an address to 267-293-9387.
  • allows users to search Philadelphia property owners by name (in addition to by address, which the city already provides online) so it’s easier for community organizers to track derelict home owners.

To prepare for the April 28th hackathon, the Center hosted a brainstorming session facilitated by Chris Wink of Technically Philly, Erika Owens of Hacks/Hackers Philly and Mike Brennan of Random Hacks of Kindness’ local chapter in which news professionals shared their thoughts on questions/problems/projects they plan to propose.  Some of the ideas which emerged were:

  • A way for community meetings to be accessible through a database and/or via txt message
  • A mapping of LGBT rights proximate to users’ location
  • An aggregation of community web and print weeklies working in similar or adjacent neighborhoods
  • The ability to see the front pages of community weeklies aggregated to provide a regular sense of community news across the city
  • Mapping of construction actively permitted in the city
  • Minority participation in public projects across the city
  • A census of homeless support service recipients and locations
  • Mapping per-pupil spending and charter school funding by district
  • Geocoded community asset mapping
  • Tracking of Zoning Board of Adjustment outcomes
  • Tracking of Police advisory review board complaint outcomes
  • Mapping of public investment/subsidy tied to building ownership
  • A tool to help the Philadelphia City Planning Commission register community organizations online with ability to identify leadership and location and define boundaries while providing transparency to the development process
  • An online index for trash and the city’s cleanliness by mapping where street cleaning takes place, trashcans are located, to identify cleaning deserts. If the data is overlaid with 311 on dumping hotspots, could be a way to understand our litter problem.
  • 311 data visualizations (i.e. ) Picking areas of focus, we could better understand how quality-of-life issues are distributed in the city.
  • A text service for crime – text your address and see crimes within a certain distance (Basically a mobile EveryBlock).
  • Whose jobs is it? Communities have a hard time getting answers to their questions because they don’t know who to ask. Do you call 911 or 311 if your neighbor is playing loud music? Is it CLIP or L&I who can clean up a neglected property? How ’bout a texting service that allows residents to access “about the department” information they’d typically only see on a website?
  • Mobile access to Bobby Henon’s “Bad Neighbors Initiative”.
  • Supporting taxi drivers working to improve health conditions on the job by adding the functionality to collect contact info and mobile petitions to their SMS mass communications system

More ideas are welcome, so individuals and organizations interested in participating in and benefiting from the work of this or future hackathons (or who are just curious about the project) should contact organizer Michael Greenle at michael greenlegmailcom or @mikegreenle on Twitter.  Attendees at the hackathon can feel free to just participate as volunteers using their own expertise in news, information, media, community or technology if they’re not interested in pitching ideas.

Project background:

The Center initiated this project to help support news, advocacy and civic organizations in reaching audiences and building community through mobile platforms. As access to news and information through phones and tablets increases, it presents a unique opportunity for local public interest news organizations and neighborhood groups to reach new audiences, particularly those in communities with limited computer or broadband access. This opportunity is particularly promising for African-American and Hispanic communities as those communities appear to outpace others in use of mobile devices for data access.

The Center will cover the $5 registration fee for groups which want to pitch ideas in the hackathon.  We hope to hear from you.

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