Let's do an International Open Data Hackathon

Let’s do it.

Last summer, I met Pedro Markun and Daniela Silva at the Mozilla Summit. During the conversation – feeling the drumbeat vibe of the conference – we agreed it would be fun to do an international event. Something that could draw attention to open data.

A few weeks before I’d met Edward Ocampo-Gooding, Mary Beth Baker and Daniel Beauchamp at GovCamp Ottawa. Fresh from the success of getting the City of Ottawa to see the wisdom of open data and hosting a huge open data hackathon at city hall they were thinking “let’s do something international.” Yesterday, I tested the idea on the Open Knowledge Foundation’s listserve and a number of great people from around the world wrote back right away and said… “We’re interested.”

This idea has lots of owners, from Brazil to Europe to Canada, and so my gut check tells me, there is interest. So let’s take the next step. Let’s do it.


Here’s my take on three great reasons now is a good time for a global open data hackathon:

1) Build on Success: There are a growing number of places that now have open data. My sense is we need to keep innovating with open data – to show governments and the public why it’s serious, why it’s fun, why it makes life better, and above all, why it’s important. Let’s get some great people together with a common passion and see what we can do.

2) Spread the Word: There are many places without open data. Some places have developed communities of open data activists and hackers, others have nascent communities. In either case these communities should know they are not alone, that there is an international community of developers, hackers and advocates who want to show them material and emotional support. They also need to demonstrate, to their governments and the public, why open data matters. I think an global open data hackathon can’t hurt, and can make help a whole lot. Let’s see.

3) Make a Better World: Finally, there is a growing amount of global open data thanks to the World Bank’s open data catalog and its Apps for Development competition. The Bank is asking for developers to build apps that, using this data (plus any other data you want) will contribute to reaching the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. No matter who, or where, you are in the world this is a cause I believe we can all support. In addition, for communities with little available open data, the bank has a catalog that might provide at least some that is of interest.

So with that all said, I think we should propose hosting a global open data hackathon that is simple and decentralized: locally organized, but globally connected.


The basic premises for the event would be simple, relying on 5 basic principles.

1. It will happen on Saturday, Dec 4th. (after a fair bit of canvassing of colleagues around the world this seems to be a date a number can make work). It can be as big or as small, as long or as short, as you’d like it.

2. It should be open. Daniel, Mary Beth and Edward have done an amazing job in Ottawa attracting a diverse crowd of people to hackathons, even having whole families come out. Chris Thorpe in the UK has done similarly amazing work getting young and diverse group hacking. I love Nat Torkington’s words on the subject. Our movement is stronger when it is broader.

3. Anyone can organize a local event. If you are keen help organize one in your city and/or just participate add your name to the relevant city on this wiki page. Where ever possible, try to keep it to one per city, let’s build some community and get new people together. Which city or cities you share with is up to you as it how you do it. But let’s share.

4. You can hack on anything that involves open data. Could be a local app, or a global apps for development submission, scrape data from a government website and make it available in a useful format for others or create your own data catalog of government data.

5. Let’s share ideas across cities on the day. Each city’s hackathon should do at least one demo, brainstorm, proposal, or anything that it shares in an interactive way with at members of a hackathon in at least one other city. This could be via video stream, skype, by chat… anything but let’s get to know one another and share the cool projects or ideas we are hacking on. There are some significant challenges to making this work: timezones, languages, culture, technology… but who cares, we are problem solvers, let’s figure out a way to make it work.

Again, let’s not try to boil the ocean. Let’s have a bunch of events, where people care enough to organize them, and try to link them together with a simple short connection/presentation.Above all let’s raise some awareness, build something and have some fun.

What’s next?

1. If you are interested, sign up on the wiki. We’ll move to something more substantive once we have the numbers.

2. Reach out and connect with others in your city on the wiki. Start thinking about the logistics. And be inclusive. Someone new shows up, let them help too.

3. Share with me your thoughts. What’s got you excited about it? If you love this idea, let me know, and blog/tweet/status update about it. Conversely, tell me what’s wrong with any or all of the above. What’s got you worried? I want to feel positive about this, but I also want to know how we can make it better.

4. If there is interest let’s get a simple website up with some basic logo that anyone can use to show they are part of this. Something like the OpenDataOttawa website comes to mind, but likely simpler still, just laying out the ground rules and providing links to where events are taking place. Might even just be a wiki. I’ve registered opendataday.org, not wedded to it, but it felt like a good start. If anyone wants to help set that up, please let me know. Would love the help.

5. Localization. If there is bandwidth locally, I’d love for people to translate this blog post and repost it locally. (let me know as I’ll try cross posting it here, or at least link to it). It is important that this not be an english language only event.

6. If people want a place to chat with other about this, feel free to post comments below. Also the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Government mailing list is probably a good resource.

Okay, hopefully this sounds fun to a few committed people. Let me know what you think.

29 thoughts on “Let's do an International Open Data Hackathon

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Let’s do an International Open Data Hackathon | eaves.ca -- Topsy.com

  2. Philip Ashlock

    I look forward to collaborating on this. The true hacker side of me hates to say this, but I figured I’d at least mention that using the terms codeathon or code sprint would help include broader open government demographics and would probably translate more universally. I hate to cave into that kind of thing, but the pragmatist in me says that it’s a small consession for the amount of government involvment it would provide. I’m partly thinking of coordination with the International Open Government Data conference and the Open Government Data Camp.

    Though I must say, it was pretty awesome how the city of Edmonton coordinated a hackathon with Seoul Korea and Edmonton’s website got tested for some serious infiltration :)

    1. David Eaves

      It was – even cooler was the reaction of the Edmonton CIO.

      Also thank you for the codeathon language – we’ve been using hackathon up here and have just gotten used to it. I’ll dive in and edit it shortly. I’ll be at the London Open Government Data Camp so can coordinate things from there…

    2. Sara Farmer

      >Though I must say, it was pretty awesome how the city of Edmonton coordinated a hackathon with Seoul Korea and Edmonton’s website got tested for some serious infiltration :)

      Oy! Birmingham UK was in that coordinated hackathon too!

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  4. Marcin Wojnarski

    Brilliant idea. What do you think about one more “location” of this hackathon being virtual space? We can run an online contest for the best algorithm to crunch municipal data. We have a platform, TunedIT, for this kind of contests (http://tunedit.org/challenges), used until now for scientific and university data mining competitions. If only you can come up with an idea what city data to crunch, we can organize the whole thing. It must last longer than one day (say 1-2 months), but could start on Dec 4th, together with the rest of hackathon. What do you think?

  5. Herb Lainchbury

    Count me in David.

    I wonder if we could coordinate something that would have widespread impact – something that would give governments around the world a hand up.

    Here’s a way out there idea: Maybe a reverse apps4 contest. We agree to hold a 24 hour hackathon and governments around the world are invited to submit project ideas. A panel then chooses the best idea(s) and then we spend 24 hours hacking those ideas for those governments. We open source the result so all governments who want to could make use of the result.

    We could use criteria like how generally applicable the result would be, how well it lends itself to the 24 hour hackathon format, how many earthlings would be positively affected, etc..

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