Yesterday Open Hamilton (@OpenHamilton) held a hackathon at the 1280 pub inside McMaster University. The event was attended by about 50 developers, designers, students, makers and others in the local community. The motivation to hold the hackathon was the release of real-time data by the HSR (scheduled to occur on July 31st). Open Hamilton was given access to this data in some form by the city so that attendees could begin to create open data apps to utilize this data.
The organizers did not direct the participants to develop particular types of apps, but instead facilitated access to the data and let the participants decide what to create.
Teams formed around different project ideas and spent the day working on the apps – for example a real-time visualization of average bus late times per line, and an app to receive bus time data via text messages. Talking to the teams it looks like many plan to continue their work after the event to complete these apps, so it looks like we’ll be seeing some apps taking advantage of real-time HSR data available soon! When these apps are released I’ll provide updates as to how to access them.
Interestingly, mayor Bob Bratina spoke at the beginning of the event. Bratina acknowledged that Hamilton was behind regarding open data and gave the attendees encouraging remarks that were well received (at least from the participants I spoke with). Towards the end of the event city manager Chris Murray came by – carrying boxes of donuts! It would be wonderful to see this co-operation with and encouragement of the local open data community continue.
This hackathon felt like a major step forward for open data in Hamilton. There’s been a lot of enthusiasm around open data advocacy for years now, but in the absence of actual open data, it has been very difficult for this enthusiasm to be translated into hackathons that would galvanize developers and apps that would provide value for citizens.
What this hackathon showed was that if you release useful open data like real-time HSR data in an accessible manner (API, etc.), then local developers will absolutely step up to create apps. I saw groups of people at this event that I have never seen at a Hamilton tech event before, many of them students looking to build portfolios, other groups of people were just looking to build something cool. When I asked them why they came out, they said it was because of what they would get to work on.
So again, it goes to show – when useful open data is released, the community will step up to create apps.
Speaking to the organizers, another hackathon is tentatively being planned for November of this year. I suspect it could be much bigger!
Great job on the part of Open Hamilton organizers Anand Sinha (@AnandSHamilton), Joey Coleman (@JoeyColeman) and Matt Grande (@MattGrande), and the sponsors Microsoft Canada. Open Hamilton has been pushing this issue for years (with Joey Coleman leading the charge) and this hackathon felt like a major step forward. I’m sure there’s a lot more steps to be taken. But I remember a few years ago open data in Hamilton seemed stagnant, whereas now the city is releasing key open data, apparently more data will be released in the future, developers are getting to build apps, and even the mayor is acknowledging and encouraging the community. That’s pretty awesome.