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Great American Hackathon @ RIT

Sun, 12/20/2009 - 16:15 -- Anonymous (not verified)

After all was said and done, about 15-20 people from all over the country and here at RIT participated in a nationwide event focusing on the leading priorities of the Public Information Economy; Access, Openness and Transparency. This Hackathon was so in mode with initiatives from the highest governmental levels of the Transparency Movement.

Slideshow of pics snapped during the event:

These projects will only become more and more relevant as politics and democracy catch up with technology and the internet. Case in point; the new Whitehouse open government directive seen here:

The Open Government Directive:

View more documents from White House.

The Sunlight Foundation announced this Hackathon months ago, and invited all of the project leaders from their development arm Sunlight Labs, to put on events on their own home turf. We were a bit apprehensive about running a hackfest with less than a week of of leadtime after covering FUDcon Toronto 2009, but we weren't going to NOT run one...

You organized a Hack-a-what???

We're sure you've heard of a Marathon, but you are probably wondering what a Hackathon is? Well, its a lot like a marathon in that you commit to covering a lot of ground over one extended period of effort. A hackathon happens at a common venue, in realspace and/or cyberspace, where groups of people, whether they are coders, programmers, designers, or other innovators, creators, and like-minded folk, put in a concerted effort to accomplish explicit goals and tasks identified at the outset of the event, usually culminating in some kind of running code. Some hackathons are impromptu, and spring up out of other conference(or unconference) talks and activities. Some are announced months in advance, and have an explicit course of action, or field of application, like this past event.

The Re-Cap:

The Hackathon ran from noon on Saturday til about 10pm on Sunday. Over the course of the 2 days, we had 8 Students from the OLPC Honors Seminar course, a handful of RIT students(4 or so), 2 RIT Professors, and members of the CIVX project in attendance at the Center for Student Innovation. There was also a small contingent of Boston Hackers from CIVX in attendance via IRC and Codecast, making this 2 day event stretch across 2 states atleast.

The first day was mostly an introductory session on using git, and gitorious to clone, push and pull from code repositories. Over the course of the day, CIVX was tested on multiple platforms and Operating Systems, with success installing on Virtual Machines running on a windows box, and even getting the Moksha Hub Running on an XO!

The second day of the Hackathon was less about introduction and bootstrapping, and more about diving into the code. We discussed the Dataset Lifecycle, and how external raw data is converted into open formats and open API's using the CIVX Scraper API.

After a more thorough look under the hood of CIVX, the group decided to experiment with the FiftyStates Client API. After a few run throughs, we managed to expose all legislators and their roles in the fiftystates api(**BE KIND** - Link is a json dump, and it hammers the fiftystates API, so use sparingly), through the CIVX People Controller. We started to get into using the Bill.search() functions as well, but that will be an event for the next hackathon...

In Conclusion:

Little known to most--we hope he doesn't mind us blowing up his spot--but RIT has had a huge impact on Transparency Innovation already. We're not sure if RIT is even aware of it, but one of Sunlight Labs' Top Gun Hackers--James Turk whom has authored massively useful and OPEN libraries, apps and APIs for sunlight labs--also happens to be an RIT Alumni. In our (few admittedly) conversations with Clay, James Turk's name was brought up as soon as RIT was mentioned. Kudos to you, James Turk, who has also been leading up the FiftyStates Project for the Sunlight Foundation(the API that we were experimenting with at the RIT Hackathon). Your code and presence is still shaping Innovation at RIT, even in your absence, and we are grateful.

Events like this hackathon highlight open development for opensource projects and have the ability to provide a basis for long-term innovation, not just short term publicity. Running code is tangible, and can be iteratively collaborated upon, in a very public way that highlights the importance of process as much as end product. The blueprint IS the building in information architecture, and rapid web development translates into rapid innovation and deployment. The CSI will be continuing these types of events in the future, and are looking forward to collaborating with the next generation architects and innovators of the Information Economy.

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