How Hack-a-Thon winners used Toronto open data

Two smart phone apps, results of the Hack-a-Thon contest that took place during Mobile Innovation Week (MIW) 2010 in Toronto, show how open data sets from the City of Toronto have a lot of potential for social good.

The apps were showcased during a roundtable discussion on the ways cities can use mobile to empower citizens, part of the Mobile ThinkTank series, which included members of the City of Toronto’s open data team.

The open data staff reminded developers that city data is free for use. The only catch is that developers adhere to the city’s licence agreement, which basically asks developers to include proper attribution and not use the data for illegal purposes. The city staff also encouraged developers to let them know which data sets they want opened.

The first app demoed during the roundtable discussion was Toronto Votes 2010, an iPhone app co-developed by Gabriel Grant, winner of the Hack-a-Thon’s developer category, to promote the upcoming municipal elections to young voters. Only 24 years old himself, Grant was awarded the “young star” title.

“The ‘young star’ was Gabe because of his contributions to the open data set … out of everyone there, Gabe was the one working with the most with the city,” said Hack-a-Thon organizer Jason Silva, founder of JBBMobile Inc.

Toronto Votes 2010 uses open data sets from the City of Toronto, as well as other APIs, to provide election-related information to users, such as what ward they are located in, who their local councillors are and how to interact with them, explained Grant. “We are hoping this will help engage young people,” he said.

Grant said the app has been submitted to Apple Inc. for inclusion on The App Store and that an Android version is also in the works. He anticipates the app will become available to the public within the next couple weeks, providing enough time for residents to use it before Election Day on October 25.

In the video below, Grant and Silva discuss the Toronto Votes 2010 app in further detail with ComputerWorld Canada at the Mobile ThinkTank event.  

Urban Hero, the second app showcased at the Mobile ThinkTank event, is designed to allow residents to report issues, such as excessive trash, potholes, and graffiti, to the city for repair. Currently in beta and developed for the Windows 7 phone, the app includes reporting, tracking and collaboration features.

Users can take a photo of the issue, which is tagged with location data using GPS, as part of the report to provide the city with accurate details. Users are also awarded points for submitting reports, which could theoretically be redeemed for prizes from the city, as an incentive to use the application.

Urban Hero integrates with SQL Server Reporting Services (SRSS) and Crystal Reports, and includes enterprise-level functionality such as central administration, the ability to detect duplicate reports from multiple users and blocking users that abuse the system. It also has the potential for integrating with SharePoint and Outlook.

The app uses open data sets from the City of Toronto, but by collecting data from residents and passing it back to the city, it also becomes an “open data feed in itself,” said one of the co-developers. The app can also be adapted for use in other cities across Canada.

Created by a team of young developers, Urban Hero was the winner of the app category at the Hack-a-Thon. The developers have also caught the interest of Microsoft Corp. and mentioned plans to meet with the company in Redmond in the near future. The app, currently in beta, would require assistance from the City of Toronto to become fully functional for public use. 

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur

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