TEDxKrakow hackers code into the night

The night before TEDxKrakow's 2012 event, four groups of hackers  — web developers, app developers, graphic designers and computer programmers — greeted the morning with four brand new platforms for civic engagement in their city.

This was TEDxKrakow’s Hackathon, an all-night coding session designed to create solutions for the local community.

"Here in Krakow we’re blessed with a thriving community of developers and programmers, so when one of our partners (the Krakow branch of the Sii Group) wanted to meet them as part of their involvement with the event, we came up with the idea of organizing a hackathon," said organizer Ewa Spohn.

"In Krakow, hackathons aren’t anything new and they happen regularly, but they tend to focus on commercial applications," she said. As TEDxKrakow is a non-profit, and our goal is to make a difference in this enchanting and sometimes surprising city, we wanted to do something a little more interesting."

Inspired by Jennifer Pahlka’s TEDTalk, “Coding a better a government," the team of TEDxKrakow decided that ideas worth spreading needed to become actions worth doing in groups of 1s and 0s.

They went to the regional governor’s office to ask for a partner in the state, knowing that developments can’t happen without data.

"I had little hope of a positive answer as Polish government agencies are still reeling from decades of communist rule and release public data reluctantly, but to my surprise he loved our idea. In fact, he said he’s been waiting for years for a grassroots initiative to find him, and added that he’d give us access to anything we want," said Ewa.

“Everyone from the police to health service, education, social care, environmental protection, immigration and major infrastructure investments report to him,” she said, “so the potential was giant.”

Thanks to the governor, the TEDxKrakow team soon had pools of valuable community data, ready to be mined for service to the city.

"Much to our amazement," said Ewa, "it all came together the night before TEDxKrakow (and the night that TEDxKids@Krakow was happening). About 40 developers and graphic designers gathered together in a co-working space in the district of Kazimierz, and over the obligatory beer and pizza, they got to work."

Programmers divided into four groups, each group dedicated to a different system: .net, Java, Android and iOS. “There was also a team who managed the extraction of data from the city’s database,” said Ewa. “Each group came up with an idea for an app based on the data provided, and we chose one that won a small prize at the end of the evening — around 1 a.m.”

Screenshot from Shrank

The winning project, Shrank, allows potential home buyers and renters to determine which districts of Krakow best fit their requirements for a neighborhood, taking into account city data on parks, crime, market prices, number of families, and options for public transportation.

Another app that caught the judges’ interest was aimed at tourists, said Ewa. Krakow is a city of 800,000 that receives over 9 million visitors a year, she said, so assistance to this overflow of tourists is necessary. The app, something new for the city, provides directions to various historical monuments in and around the city.

A crowd favorite created a challenge for users — a quiz on Krakow based on population data in an app that allows users to pit their knowledge against their friends.

"All in all, the TEDxKrakow Hackathon was a resounding success," said Ewa. "Our sponsor got to know local tech leaders, our programmers had fun, met each other, and some even found employment."

Though what was most important to the team at TEDxKrakow was the bond created between government and citizen, a bond they will hope will encourage innovations to come. “Our [governor] saw that a lot can be achieved in a very short period of time,” said Ewa. “If you just give people the data, things happen. It doesn’t require a huge IT budget and years of life-sapping project management to make something happen.”

TEDxKrakow team members hope a Krakow API will be next, but for now another Hackathon will take place in December.

Unsurprisingly, this second edition of the TEDxKrakow Hackathon is already creating buzz in the city. “We’ve already got a lot of interest from potential partners and government institutions,” said Ewa, and she’s quite convinced things won’t stop there.

"If there are any other Polish coders out there who want to come and play, contact us api@tedxkrakow.com," she said.

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