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Winners of the first-ever Boston Hack Day Challenge

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 28, 2011 09:46 AM

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It was great fun to show up at the Empty Tallboy (a/k/a Fan Pier) yesterday for the team presentations that wrapped up the Boston Hack Day Challenge. Twenty-six teams had been working since Friday night on Web sites and mobile apps geared to making life better in Boston. The judges (including this blogger) got to show up at the very end, eat mini-Snickers and swill bottled water, and act all judgmental. The event was sponsored by the Boston Globe and Boston.com.

hackday.jpgThe projects were each impressive in their own way, but we were asked to evaluate how much the teams had actually gotten done over the weekend; how much of a Boston focus there was to the app; and whether the app would somehow improve life for city-dwellers. We didn't have a chance to get hands-on time with the apps, but instead had to judge them based on five-minute presentations, which I'm sure short-changed some teams. The grand prize was an invitation to use Paul Pierce's private box for an upcoming Celtics game, but the judges decided to award a second grand prize, and Globe publisher Chris Mayer was kind enough to spontaneously offer a handful of Sox tickets to that team. (That's Mike Schneider of Allen & Gerritsen, at right, working the whiteboard in the judges' conference room.)

* Note: some of the sites below work...and some don't, since these are all relatively-fragile demos.

We awarded one grand prize to Boston Green (@BosGreenSpace on Twitter), which had built a simple, elegant iPhone app to help urbanites find green spaces in the city, regardless of whether a park is run by the Department of Conservation & Recreation or the City of Cambridge, for instance. The app supplies info about which parks are dog-friendly, which host concerts and events, and which ones sport great playgrounds for the kids. The other grand prize went to KnowEssentials (@KnowEssentials on Twitter), a text-message-based service aimed at providing information about food pantries, shelters, and social services to those who need them. The team also talked about making it easy for non-profits and government agencies to publish information about new services or offerings through their platform.

Best news-oriented project went to BigNewsBoston, which displays the hottest stories right now on Boston.com, across a number of categories like sports, business, and opinion.

Best mobile app went to Drunken Stumble, created to help you plan a pub crawl, invite friends, track how many places you've been, and call a taxi at the end of the night to get home safely. (Not surprisingly, Drunken Stumble also won the "audience favorite" award.)

CanHazParking nabbed the "best Boston-centric" prize for an app that informs you, based on your location, whether it's OK to park on the street. Is there a snow emergency? Street cleaning? The app lets you know whether you "CanHaz" a spot without fear of getting a ticket, or "NoCanHaz."

Best use of geo-location went to Accessible Places, a mobile-friendly Web site that aims to collect information from its users about handicapped accessibility around the city, and then make it available to people planning trips.

Finally, the "most socially connected" award went to a team calling itself the Zombie Programmers, who had built a mobile app to estimate when a Green Line trolley will arrive, which would collect information about the trolley's whereabouts from other riders. We liked the reliance on crowd-sourcing to deliver information the MBTA can't yet supply.

We also gave a special commendation to Open Civic Data group, which promotes making information about cities — like the location of T stops or fire hydrants — more standardized and accessible.

We wished that there had been more prizes to dole out, since there were lots more deserving projects.

Here are some videos of the teams talking about their projects, shot on Saturday:

And here's a video wrap-up shot by the Globe's Suzanne Kreiter:


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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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