Put coders and data experts together in a room, add in a desire to make St. Louis a better place, and hold for 48 hours. What do you get? Five altruistic apps and websites that are closer to becoming a reality.
OpenDataSTL, a tech-savvy group with a mission to make data more accessible, put on their second annual “Make St. Louis Better” hackathon this weekend at the 555 Building in downtown St. Louis.
After pitching ideas on Friday evening, hackathon attendees spent Saturday building the code and splicing data together, then they presented their projects to the group on Sunday.
One team had a goal of helping to feed the hungry; another focused on creating a regional volunteer database. Two others worked on educational tools to visualize St. Louis history and geography.
Outgoing OpenDataSTL co-captain Eleanor Tutt and her team worked on a website that tracks the votes of St. Louis aldermen.
“(On) the city’s website there’s currently ways to look at what board bills were in front of the Board of Aldermen, and whether they passed or not. And there’s a way to look at what alderpeople sponsored bills. But it’s very hard to tell how you’re particular alderperson voted historically,” Tutt said.
Right now Board of Aldermen votes are listed within the text of the St. Louis City Journal, posted as weekly PDFs on the city website. Tutt and her team are working on pulling those records into one easily searchable space that will sort votes by bill and ward, and graph the results.
“We’ve turned the PDFs into text files, and we’re looking for patterns in the language within the PDFs that will signify when a vote happens so we can pull that information out, but the way that it’s worded is slightly different,” Tutt said. “Sometimes it will say ‘board bill 5 passed unanimously’ or sometimes it will say 'the ayes for board bill 6’ so it’s slightly different language which makes it difficult for a computer. But we’ve got some great people who are willing to continue volunteering to get that data out.”
Tutt said once the vote tracker website is ready to go live it will most likely be hosted through Code for America, OpenDataSTL’s parent organization.
St. Louis-based credit card processor Clearent was the lead sponsor for the hackathon, and a team of Clearent employees also participated in the event. Along with two Washington University students, the Clearent team worked on an app to feed the hungry by connecting restaurants and food banks. Their app prototype includes a mechanism to donate money via credit card as well as a way for restaurants to signal when they have food they want to give away.
“We’d work with restaurants to actually understand when is a convenient time for you to make the food distribution, what’s the window of opportunity for you to do that. Often times if the food spoils obviously they can’t distribute it, and a lot of restaurants are worried about the liability of distributing food too late or too early … so they just throw it away,” said Mark Sundt, Clearent’s chief technology officer and the app building team leader.
The idea is that restaurant participants would text how many meals they have and when it can be picked up, and hungry people who have been vetted by the food banks would receive a text message letting them know the time and place. Donors would also receive a text letting them know their donation has been accepted. Sundt said if need be individuals could be given paper vouchers in place of the text message.
None of the teams had a live, working app or website by Sunday, but they open-sourced the code through GitHub so that other developers can adapt it to their own uses. The teams also planned to continue building out the projects themselves.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.