On Sunday, we completed our two-week extended mobile hack event, the Boston Innovation Challenge, that brought together almost 100 people to work together to build something that would “help make Boston better.”
We were interested to see how giving teams two weeks instead of two days would change the dynamic of the event and the quality of the hacks, and we were not disappointed.
Eleven teams presented their concepts, following on four themes that we suggested. Some of the highlights:
Winning top accolades from the judges was a team from the company Intrepid Pursuits who built a native application that shows you bands playing in your area, with a minimal interface and allows you to hear their music, see a photo and flip through to your options. CTO Matt Bridges showed this visual and audio approach to finding something to do really stood out as an elegant idea that was well executed.
In a tie for second place were two teams working on applications for the American Red Cross — Red Alert, from John Rice and Tea who built a weather app that alerts people of dangerous weather and links them directly to a preparedness checklist with links to Red Cross information, training materials and Red Cross shelter locations.
And a Red Cross Facebook App from Geordie Kaytes and Team that helps the Red Cross promote disaster preparedness with a fun and engaging way for people to build and share the contents of their “go-bag”, or portable evacuation kit.
The third place team chosen by the judges was Culture Near Me, from Tom Morris and Chris Marstall, which uses the Boston Globe API & a database of public art locations to create a mobile app that will tell you what culture is around you in Boston.
Here are some comments from some participants.
"It’s great to be chosen the Best of BIC. I really enjoyed having two weeks to work on our app. It allowed us to focus on small UX touches and polish, which would have been overlooked with a shorter timescale. It also allowed us to collaborate with some team members who weren’t available for the first weekend. I’d definitely be interested in more "extended" hackathons."- Matt Bridges, CTO, Intrepid Pursuits, http://intrepid-dev.com
"Boston is home to some of the best live venues in the nation but unless you are following a specific band, it can be tiresome to research the different groups playing at various clubs around town. As a member of the music scene in Boston I challenged the participants of the Boston Innovation Challenge to create a mobile application that could promote independent concerts. I was amazed to see my simple and vague presentation lead to the creation of a beautiful mobile app that uses one’s location to see all of the shows happening tonight. By combining the data of Jambase and Spotify, music fans can preview music before deciding where to go. The designers and developers of all the Teams displayed exceptional professionalism and commitment to community problem solving. The power of collaboration was apparent at BIC and I was thrilled to be a part of this intensely creative event.Jake Pardee - BIC Judge, student at Berklee College of Music - JakePardee.com
"I am so excited other folks get that "innovation" and "American Red Cross" go together like Charles and River or perhaps "Boston" and "Innovation." Our participation in the Boston Innovation Challenge has really stirred up some great collaborations we know will help serve our humanitarian mission." - Kat Powers, director of communications, American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts.
Many thanks to all for attending and we’ll keep you posted on our next event.
Jeff Moriarty, VP digital products, The Boston Globe.
By Matt Carroll
Online mapping has exploded in popularity over the past few years, driven by the easy-to-use of new tools. Almost anyone can quickly learn how to turn information into an informative map or post a map on their site from one of the many companies specializing in data visualizations.
A crowd of more than 30 journalists and technologists got a glimpse of some of those tools Tuesday night at a meetup called “Using mapping to inform the world.”
SeeClickFix allows people to easily report problems such as a potholes or graffiti to city officials, said Kevin Donohue, a community manager with the Connecticut-based company. The information is also displayed on maps that allow users to comment.
The app is popular with city officials, who can see which problems are generating the most complaints, and with online news sites. Boston.com has used the application in its hyperlocal section.
Donohue said residents in Oakland, Calif. used the app to leave 300 comments about a dangerous intersection, which led the city to make changes.
The MAPC, a regional planning agency for Greater Boston, takes a different approach. The agency, through its Metro Boston DataCommon, makes reams of data available to residents, who can simply view it or use it to create their own sophisticated maps. (No data uploads are allowed at this point.)
Some of the maps have been incredibly revealing, said Holly St. Clair, director of data services. One user mashed together income and the cost of housing and transportation to make a revealing map.
The MBTA Budget Calculator was created Christian Spanring, a developer with the group, and allowed users to experiment with trying to fix the MBTA’s budget by adjusting a number of costs and revenues.
The meetup, run through the Boston chapter of Hacks/Hackers, was held at Northeastern University and was organized by Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern and author of Media Nation, the online journalism blog.
[Updated 4/27 with another visualization]
Ricochet lets a brand choose an article from the Globe or Boston.com that will be interesting to its followers and fans. The brand then gets a unique URL which, when tweeted or posted on Facebook, sends readers to that article with the brand’s ads displayed next to it.
Here’s how business-software company SAP is using it with a New York Times article:
Brand advertisers also get access to the R&D lab’s Project Cascade, which will let them see the content spreading across the Internet. Here’s a visualization of a Globe story from earlier today about overuse of exclamation points!
In these visualizations, pink dots are tweets and yellow dots are clicks on those tweets that pass through bit.ly; clicks that go only through t.co are untrackable. Each circle is 90 minutes of elapsed time since the first tweet.
Here’s a cascade with a story about Sen. Scott Brown promising to release his tax returns, showing how @ChuckTodd’s tweet was hugely influential.
And just to be meta, here’s the Cascade this post generated:
You can read some more about Ricochet in AdAge.
Google today launched Schemer, a website to “help you keep track of everything you want to do so you’ll always have a scheme up your sleeve.”
- Waddle along on the Duck Boats
- Take a free peek under the Golden Dome
- Find Espresso Love
- Catch some rays at Revere Beach
Or you can tell the world, with one click, that you’ve done any or all of these activities. Here’s the full list.
Schemer is tied in with the Google+ social network, so you can share your plans with friends and get suggestions from them. If you follow Boston.com on Google+, you’ll see all of our activity ideas. We’ll keep adding to them as well.
Here’s a video the Scheming crew put together to explain the service:
If the “curated” web becomes all the rage, then Ziad R. Sultan hopes to be among the first to get there. Sultan has founded a company called Nextly that he hopes can capitalize on what he sees as the next big leap forward in the Internet’s growth.
"Curated" refers to the idea that someone helps sort through the jungle of information that is the web and finds what is relevant for you.
Sultan believes the curated web will help users more easily find information that is more tightly focused on what they need.
"I care about being guided to the right content," Sultan said.
Sultan, who is also at Longworth Venture Partners and is CEO at Marginize, spoke to about 30 people at a Hacks/Hackers Boston chapter meeting at the Boston Globe’s Innovation Lab on April 10. He pointed out that much of the web is curated informally – one-third of Tweets include a link, for instance.
The idea of Nextly, which is still in the very early stages of development, was demonstrated to an appreciative audience, many of whom signed up to be Nextly testers.
The theme of the meetup was “How to Keep Your News Site Sticky.” Also speaking was Sean Creeley, a co-founder of Embed.ly, which helps developers to embed any URL through one API, allowing them to turn posted links into videos and more. The meetup was organized by Hacks/Hacker member Stacey Resnikoff.
Hacks/Hackers Boston is also a co-sponsor of next month’s Boston Innovation Challenge, a two-week long hacking event designed to help solve Boston’s real-world problems with mobile technology.
Last February, Boston.com hosted its first hack day, with the theme of “Making Boston Better.” We had a great turnout, with 20-plus teams working through the weekend on some great ideas.
Since then, we’ve been to a lot of hack days ourselves and started to think about what our next event should look like. After meeting with our counterparts at Harvard Business Publishing, the organizers of the new Harvard I-lab and other interested partners, we thought we would try something a bit different this time around.
Though the Boston Innovation Challenge is in essence still a hack event, we’ve decided to run it for a longer time, 3 events over May 5-19 to give teams longer to work on their ideas. We’ve also themed it around mobile and are asking teams to consider one of four areas that the group thought could use some attention –
- Culture & Entertainment - Help people discover, share, and experience events.
- Connecting under-connected communities (Ethnic groups, regional groups, causes) through social networking, video, multimedia, events.
- Job creation - Matching opportunities with people looking for them using technology, multimedia and collaboration tools.
- Startups - Tightening the bonds between any new business initiatives to encourage collaboration and job creation in the area.
We also want to encourage teams to work to get a broad set of expertise – developers, designers, writers, product managers, businesspeople and marketers – to work on their concept.
The Boston Innovation Challenge is also a great event for a company to put together a team (or two) to work on an idea that helps make Boston a better place, perhaps even letting the team work some time on the clock to hone the idea. It’s not required, but we think it’s a great way to let some of your best and brightest to work on something new and represent the skill and expertise of your company.
We’ll be assembling a few Globe and Boston.com teams and working over the next month to get the word out through casual meetups and events where people can come together, meet others to join a team or just to learn about the event.
We look forward to seeing you and hope you will join us in what we hope will be a fun and inspiring event.
Sign up or get more information at www.bostoninnovationchallenge.com