Great American Hackathon Wrap-up


On the second weekend of December, Sunlight Labs held the Great American Hackathon— a nation-wide get-together of developers interested in opening up government. I’m long overdue in my wrap-up, but the end result was a success. Events popped up across the country— about 20 in all. Average attendance, from the look of it, was about 10 developers per event. Here at Sunlight, we had about 30 people show up in all, and we managed to work on several projects. Here’s some of the highlights:

Philadelphia, PA

njgangsurvey3 In Philidelphia, Josh Tabuerer of fame organized an event on the New Jersey Gang Survey Viewer — a visualization tool for the New Jersey State Police Street Gang Survey 2007. The site was developed by five volunteers over this past weekend, with the help of New Jersey State Police analysts. The result— about 7 developers who didn’t know each other beforehand pulled off a great visualization, a service for their local community, and more importantly, created a community in and of themselves. Read the full story over on Josh’s blog.

Rainbow Mansion, CA

Our pals at NASA — led by Jessy Cowan-sharp got together and shared various ways to help NASA improve its open source aspects. The picture on the left seems inspiring. The group that got together there was small, but significant. In addition, Pete Skomoroch worked a bit on the Statistically Improbably Phrases idea, which looks like it may catch our members of Congress cribbing too much from lobbyist talking points.

Minneapolis, MN

In Minnesota, Steven Clift organized an introductory meeting. Out of it arose an interesting project— Neighborly that I hope we get to see more out of. Neighborly aims to help nearest neighbors connect online in a private setting to be “good neighbors” as well as to give “block captains” (often engaged by community policing efforts or neighborhood associations) tools to help them effectively communicate with interested neighbors.

Boston, MA

In Boston, Dan Croak got to work on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation data— uniting citizens and government API and data stewards in the offices ofThoughtBot.

Phoenix, AZ

Sunlight LabsIn Phoenix, Marc Chung stepped up and organized a hackathon at Gangplank. They focused on the 50 State Project and delivered an Arizona parser. Arizona was a state we didn’t have, and now we’ll be able to support organizations like MapLight and OpenCongress shedding more light on how State Governments work.

Washington, DC

Here in Washington, we had several projects get a boost of developer support and connection. The Voting Information Project wrangled a couple developers into working on an Absentee Ballot write-in gadget. A representative from the NIH came and worked on Pillbox— an API to help visually identify pills. And of course, James Turk and Michael Stephens were here to knock out states for the 50 State Project
Believe it or not, event reports are still coming in— so this is just the tip of the iceberg. We even made TV:

Overall, the event was a success, but there was a lot of room to improve. For next year we need to:

  1. Have more specific projects to work on in each place
  2. Reach out to the mountain states who were curiously absent from the hackathon
  3. Do a better job at building a more diverse group of people at the events. There was a relatively homogenous turnout.

There’s always room for improvement. I’d estimate we had about 100 developers show up across the country. And now they know each other— and they know what they’re working on. They know the mission of Sunlight and our community. This was a beta test, and it was successful. So I’m happy to say that yes, there will be a Great American Hackathon in 2010.

Great work all!