Recapping the Open Government Hackathon at RubyConf


Last week, David, Eric, and I attended RubyConf in New Orleans. The organizers of the conference were kind enough to offer us space for an open government hackathon that we held every day of the conference. During the day, as conference sessions were going on, quite a few folks trickled in and out during the “open hacking” hours. On the first two evenings, after the conference sessions ended, we held a series of talks of our own in the hackathon room. We hosted a little over twenty people each night for the talks.

Big thanks goes to Tropo for sponsoring food and drinks for the hackathon attendees. We were able to enjoy beignets, soft pretzels, and king cake, not to mention stay hydrated and caffeinated, thanks to them.

Here’s a quick recap of what we worked on:

  • Dan Melton of Code for America led development on a Ruby gem for the recently revamped Open311 spec. The folks at SeeClickFix graciously provided an Open311 server to test against.
  • Rob Rasmussen wrote a data catalog scraper for which we’ll incorporate into the National Data Catalog. Rob also helped on the Open311 gem.
  • Speaking of the National Data Catalog, rabble stormed into the room on the first day, demanding to speak to one of the developers behind the project. When I piped up that I was one of them, he told me that his team had forked the project in preparation to launch a data catalog for Latin America: “Datos Abiertos”. We hope to see that launch soon, and work with them to incorporate their changes back into our project.
  • John Britton of Twilio built a call tool for Congress using the Sunlight Congress API. All you need to know about it can be said in 140 characters or less. Call 1-888-491-2262 to try it out.
  • Troy Thibodeaux, a New Orleans native and reporter for the AP, started researching ways to let citizens review the effectiveness of the City of New Orleans criminal courts system.
  • Also related to New Orleans, the seeds of open government were planted amongst local Rubyists looking to build an online tool to provide better city services. I learned that the key to a successful project for New Orleans is to include the letters “NOLA” somewhere in the project title. A Rubyist from Reno, Nevada is also looking to bring open government projects to his local Ruby group out West.

Two of the evening presentations were especially notable. The first came on Thursday, and it was the story of 2.0 by Bob Burbach:

On Friday evening, my colleague David James gave a wonderful presentation on the art of web scraping:

All in all, it was a good time, and I hope the attendees got something useful out of it.