Hack Omaha's goal: Create useful tools for the public

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Posted: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 12:00 am

Participants at past Hack Omaha events have created a game out of restaurant inspection scores and a searchable resource out of city council agendas.

For the third time, in an event this weekend, civic-minded hackers will devise new ways to make public information more useful to the public.

More than 60 people have registered for the event. They’ll spend more than two full days working with information including municipal codes, city budgets, public school enrollment and bus schedules.

“It’s a really neat experience you don’t get from other programming events,” said Matthew Steele, a Union Pacific programmer who will be participating for the third time. “It’s still competitive, but you’re doing it for the betterment of the community. The end result isn’t a business that you’re trying to found, or a product that you are trying to sell to a company. You want it to be a useful tool.”

The event is free for the first time and will be held at the offices of Aviture, 8802 S. 135th St., a software engineering firm that serves government and commercial industries. The event is sponsored by HP Cloud and The World-Herald. Open Nebraska is an organizer.

Aviture President Mark Griffis said he got involved to see if Aviture’s incubator, the Garage, could help support some of the projects that come out of the event.

“How can we take the ideas that these young kids and developers come up with and take it to the next level — to find a niche in the market or continue building on it next year?” Griffis said.

State Sen. Heath Mello, a Hack Omaha judge, also sees an economic development angle to public data.

He said his participation with the event is one thing that is spurring him to draft a bill that would create a Nebraska open data policy. Not only would it make public information more transparent and useful, but it would provide entrepreneurs the raw material to create useful consumer products, Mello said.

The hackers have been using the MindMixer platform to discuss potential ideas ahead of the event. The ideas include predicting future school enrollment and connecting health inspection ratings with restaurant review sites.

The event attracted more sponsorship this year, including HP Cloud. “Cloud Evangelist” Dave Nielsen will be coming to Omaha for the first time from Silicon Valley for the event. He’s looking to find out what types of public projects developers are interested in, in light of a coming $50,000 HP contest focused in part on “public benefit.”

“We’re looking forward to meeting people who are doing interesting things,” he said.

Register at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/hack-omaha-iii-with-a-vengeance-tickets-8715076027.

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