A group of 15 Open SLC members come together to discuss app ideas. Photo: Mark Parthum
There was a humming of excitement in downtown Salt Lake this weekend, and Pride wasn’t the only cause. In a back office at the Leonardo, 15 minds gathered, ready to solve civic problems voted on by their community. Only one day could herald such a day of work, and that is the National Day of Civic Hacking. Happening in cities across the U.S., Open SLC, a group of individuals who believe all public record should be available in human and machine readable format, gathered ready to solve problems for our city.
Mark Parthum, one of the main volunteers for the Code for America Brigade is more than excited for the future of these projects. “The government makes this information public for a lot of people to see, the hard thing is that if it isn’t used, they don’t make all of it available. If we can expose the importance of this information, they’ll release more, and we’ll benefit more. We can use data like building permits to track restaurants, growth, even types of business expanding in certain areas, and help that be accessed be people new to the city, or by the business themselves.”
With this objective in mind, the flow of the day was relatively simple. Application ideas were posted to openslc.org and members of the community and the brigade were allowed to vote. The top ideas were then pitched at the event and teams were formed. The teams were comprised of various talents: programmers, designers, marketing gurus, communication specialists––there was no specific niche in the room required for attendance. If you have an interest in helping and have knowledge of technology, you were welcomed with open arms. Throughout the day, the teams worked on their projects, pushing the applications as far as they possibly could, knowing that they would not finish in one day and will continue to work on the project for months to come. Taco Cart SLC (a tentative name still) and Crisis Now were the two apps worked on for the day. Crisis Now is a database intended to advise victims of violent crimes on how to receive help. Not only did the application have access to every number for every emergency group in Utah, but it would advise the order in which to call, when to call, and offer secondary contacts if the primaries were not available. Taco Cart SLC focused on a completely different crisis: where to find food when it’s constantly moving. Vendors enrolled in the app are able to check into their various locations and let their customers know how long they’ll be available. The customers on the other side can then search for mobile food near them and satiate their lunch time (or snack time) needs.
With three hours of work behind them, Taco Cart SLC was functioning through a browser and pulling from a prebuilt database to find locations. Crisis Now had a complete work flow and stacks of data had been uncovered that would be useful to violent crime victims. This was with only 15 people available. Imagine what could happen with 100, or 500 in that same amount of time. As I left the day of hacking behind, it was clear to me that the group had only mildly began to tap into its potential and the possibilities were truly endless. For more information on Open SLC, check out their website.