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national day of civic hacking

Highlights From The National Day of Civic Hacking

The atmosphere after a hackathon is usually one of relief and mutual congratulation—“We finally made it,” the participants say, referring both to finishing their programs and reaching the end of the grueling event—but the real work takes place in the weeks and months that follow. That’s when the programmers, designers, and subject matter experts refine their work, hopefully planting the seed for a new business or public service.

Below are four standout projects that emerged from the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH), which took place over the first two days of June in 95 locations around the United States. Besides celebrating their ingenuity, there are some lessons to be learned from each of them.

Spreading success stories in Chicago

In Chicago, an app called TowText lets users know if their car has been towed, and provides the phone number and address of the impound lot. The best part? Because of the City of Chicago has a standardized data-collection policy and a rapidly-updating database for relocated vehicles, TowText users get a message within fifteen minutes of their car being logged.

TowText was created by designer-engineer Tony Webster. Webster notes

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Your Friendly Neighborhood Hacker

When local news editors across America received tips that hackers would be gathering in their town over the weekend, they must have been alarmed. The events of the first National Day of Civic Hacking (NDCH) – held June 1-2 in 95 locations around the country – were benign, as anyone who has ever attended a similar meet-up might imagine, but that didn’t stop the flood of references to malware, identity theft and other computer security breaches in the news coverage.

In reality, the mission of the NDCH couldn’t have been more “white hat”:

“The event will bring together citizens, software developers, and entrepreneurs from all over the nation to collaboratively create, build, and invent new solutions using publicly-released data, code and technology to solve challenges relevant to our neighborhoods, our cities, our states and our country.”

This wasn’t the sort of “hacking” that captured the popular imagination in the ‘80s and ‘90s; the NDCH events looked more like community service jamborees, with visits from small-town mayors and a few boxes of free pizza on the tables. The participants weren’t there to break laws, and in fact collaborated with local

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