Where the hacky things are- NYC BigApps
I signed up attend the NYC BigApps Hackathon with the honest intention of not writing a single line of code. I was there to represent RecordSetter as an API provider, and I figured I’d take a back seat, live tweet/blog the event and take some photos (I brought my SLR and everything!). Things didn’t really work out that way.
I was already restless by the end of Friday evening- CartoDB’s Javier Torre and I had sat in with the team that would become NYC Hood to hear their ideas and watch them trash out a weekend plan on their whiteboard. I didn’t like being on the outside- I thought back to the other hackathon events I’ve attendedand how enjoyable the whole process is. The initial process of throwing ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks. Working out what you’re even going to be able to achieve by the end of the event. The inevitable crunch on Sunday afternoon when you realise you were wrong about how much you could achieve. The exhilaration of finally showing off your creation to your peers. But anyway; I wasn’t doing a hack.
The API presentations came and went on Saturday morning. I exchanged hellos with NY City’s Andrew Nickle and I mentioned my frustration at not being one of the hackers we were watching. “Well, you could always submit a hack as long as you don’t use your own API”. Hmm. I had some time to kill, so I started browsing through the datasets available and toyed around with a few ideas. Before I knew it I had half of an app.
That half an app became NYC Taxi Tracker. It’s a mobile app that tracks your taxi ride and allows you to rate your driver. It then compares the route you took with the route a route planner chooses- the idea being that the app can aggregate which drivers are taking their customers the long way to earn more cash. I got some invaluable feedback in the presentation Q&A (including a brief discussion with Carole Post about how that info could be provided back to the city), and I’m proud to say that it won both third prize, and a Hacker’s Choice award.
It was a great event- my thanks go out to everyone involved in organising it. Especially whoever was in charge of the amazing (and never-ending) food and drink we had over the weekend. There were some other fantastic hacks put together- the aforementioned NYC Hood team turned in a site that parses your Foursquare history and recommends your perfect neighbourhood. An FDNY employee (how great is that?) presented a system for better fire inspections. First prize (and our shared Hacker’s Choice award) went to Eric Rafaloff for his awesome concept “Can I Park Here?”. He also kept a live blog throughout the event.
The BigApps hackathon was just the start of the BigApps program. The main competition ends in January and has some phenomenal prizes, including induction into the TechStars program to launch your app as a full-blown business. I have the skeleton of an app and some early stage idea validation- it seems stupid for me to not participate. But I haven’t planned anything- I still need to work out exactly what the final app will do, how it’ll work and what it’ll look like. Having been inspired by Eric’s live blogging, I’m going to try to keep an account of this process as I go through it, and hopefully I’ll have something to show for it by January.
Also, a new name. “NYC Taxi Tracker” doesn’t really cut it, does it?