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Nadworny: Hackathon Challenge

(Host)Recently, commentator and digital marketer Rich Nadworny spent one Saturday afternoon reviewing how much creativity web programmers can squeeze into 24 hours.

(Nadworny) In October MyWeb Grocer sponsored another Vermont Hackathon in Winooski. For the second year in a row, they invited Web programmers and developers to build something in 24 hours and offered some sizable checks as prizes. Once again, I had a front row seat at the event with the honor and pleasure of acting as one of the five judges who chose the winners.

Last year MyWebGrocer asked participants to use MyWeb's own code, which drives Web sites for grocery stores across the U.S. This year, the challenge was to use open data sources, mostly government sources, to build something, a Web site or mobile app, that Vermont state institutions could use. Adding this social element made the competition much more interesting.

Another thing that was different was that the teams, this year, included more non-programmers like designers or marketers. The idea was that this would make the final products more well-rounded and people, not programming, focused.

At the end of the day, the 32 teams presented their work. There were a lot of Brewery Tour apps. If you didn't know anything about our state, you might assume by looking at the entries that Vermont had a major problem with people not being able to find our local breweries. Maybe that is a problem for some, but not for most.

The winners, a group of current and former Draker Labs employees, built a tool that visualized, over time, the locations of businesses and showed, over time, when they started and closed. It was very well designed and was something that the Agency of Commerce had expressed a need for. Second place went to a team that built a site for people attending town meetings. It allowed people to pull in key data, like school budgets, class size and other town information, and to compare that with other Vermont towns. It seemed like something that would make people much more informed to make local decisions.

I was hoping we'd see more data mashups, that is, putting two separate data sources together into something surprising. Like mashing up the Brewery maps with data on DUI arrests. That might be of interest to anyone on the tour foolhardy enough to drink and drive. But then again, with the most common routes to the breweries in hand, the state police might nab more DUI drivers.

But getting back to the Hackthon, w hile the lack of surprise might be result of the short time limits, I think it's something to pay attention to as we try to innovate our way to a better future here in Vermont. People embrace inventions that solve real problems by using unexpected combinations. When you see them, they usually cause you to smack your forehead and say, Why didn't I think of that.

The Hackathon was a great event for our Creative Economy . It shows that we need more events like this and more practice in training ourselves to be more creative in both our approach and our solutions.

Rich Nadworny is a designer who resides in Burlington and Stockholm.
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