hacktuckyI’m not a great gauge of age, but I guessed the crowd at the #Hacktucky demo day averaged around 10 years younger than me.

So I thought it was strange that as we’re waiting for the event to begin, the rebellious music of my youth like “Waiting Room” by Fugazi and “21st Century Digital Boy” by Bad Religion is blasting from the PA system.

But when Chris Courtney of the Chicago Tribune and organizer of the event takes the stage, he makes clear why this playlist has been selected.

He says: “This is punk rock journalism.”


Because, as he said, every member of the hackathon — around 25 total — had been planning to attend the Society for News Design conference here in Louisville this past weekend. But instead, he said, they “self-selected out of the conference to spend the conference hacking.”

Well, almost: every member of the hackathon had signed up for the annual (very expensive) conference, sponsored in part by the Courier-Journal, except for some of the locals who found out about the conference from word of mouth. Your Mapper‘s Michael Schnuerle was one of those, and he was chosen to lead a team.

And his team won.

Courtney said: “None of the products you’re going to see tonight existed 24 hours ago. There was one rule of #Hacktucky: if it doesn’t ship, it didn’t happen. This is punk rock journalism.”

There were five teams that worked from 3 p.m. on Friday until 5:35 p.m. on Saturday.

Team captains and members were chosen in advance to make sure every team had at least one developer and one designer. Their mission (loosely stated) was to work with Louisville’s Open Data sources and come up with a product that could ship and that could benefit the city of Louisville.

The results:

HistoricallyLouisville.com: This site takes data from the National Registry for Historic Places and mapping data and provides a guessing game about Louisville’s historic sites. It’s a game that shows you sets of five historic sites and asks you to plot them on a map. It then reveals how far off you were with your plotting and gives you a cumulative score.

The organizers saw this as a tourist-centered site, but as a former educator I saw its application for Louisville classrooms. At the end of the hackathon, they’d uploaded 25 of the more than 90 downtown Louisville historic sites.

Bourbon Flight app
Bourbon Flight app

Kentucky Bourbon Flight: This team WAY undersold this app by focusing on it being a local app. Bourbon is so hot now, and not just in Louisville or Kentucky, but they made it seem like this app was something only a local or tourist to this region would enjoy.

Kentucky Bourbon Flight is an app that uses similar technology as Pandora — it gives you the name of a bourbon, you tell it if you like it or dislike it, and it uses that data to recommend other bourbons until it zeroes in on the bourbons that you’d like, based on aroma, darkness, finish and spiciness.

The team worked with information provided by the Kentucky Distillers Association. The design was very in keeping with other bourbon awareness pushes like the Bourbon Country campaign and the Urban Bourbon Trail app.

Screenshot 2013-11-11 at 10.31.53 AM

LouPass.com: This is a family oriented application/website that recommends fun things to do in seven categories in Louisville, including civic, cultural, sports, historic and more. By visiting any of these locales and checking in through the mobile website or through foursquare, you earn badges. These can be printed out and turned into stickers for your kids to collect.

Already visited  some of these sites? Don’t worry. The website will sync with your existing foursquare check-ins to automatically award you badges.

Screenshot 2013-11-11 at 10.31.25 AM

The Next Bus: Helmed by locals Michael Schnuerle and community planner Patrick Smith, this team developed a program that tells you not only what’s going on in Louisville (or another city with open public transportation data) on any given night, but also what public transportation you have to take to get there.

It uses real-time data to send messages to your cell phone to tell you when you need to leave your home to make it to the public transport to take you to concert/play/lecture/etc. you’re trying to get to.

Next Bus wants to license their programming to bloggers and other media so those outlets can curate their own events but use the Next Bus tech to tell followers how to get to events on time. The Next Bus team was rounded out by two designers: Amy King who is an Art Director for The Washington Post and Liz Spangler who is a designer for the Charlotte Observer.

NotifyKY.com: This is an extreme weather alert system that will let people know about earthquakes, tornadoes, extreme thunderstorms, floods and more. This team spent more than 12 hours working on data authenticity. There are a lot of data sources for extreme weather, and as they said, the worst thing a weather app can do is suggest an extreme event when there isn’t one. This design-lite app is an alert system that pushes to your mobile device and curates weather info. from a number of sources.

The judges were journalists from CNN, Slate, the Washington Post and Neil Budde from the Courier-Journal.

Organizer Courtney said all of the judges had “lived their lives in digital.”

Next Bus won the competition — the awards were #Hacktucky emblazoned mini Louisville Slugger bats.

It was a coup for the hometown team; every other team was led by a professional news designer or developer for big name news outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post and PBS NewsHour.

When I was boarding the elevator to attend the 5:35 p.m. event on Saturday at the Ali Center, I boarded with a man who said, “I know it’s late and I know I’m tired and just want a bourbon. But I’m dying to find out what the #Hacktucky people have come up with. I know a bunch of them and they’re brilliant.”

And truly #Hacktucky didn’t disappoint. All five solutions were smart — and as it was part of a design conference — beautiful.


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