"Reinventing Local" Hackathon Produces 27 New Apps

This guest post comes from Marc Mezzacca, founder of NextGen Shopping, a company dedicated to creating innovative shopping mashups. Marc’s latest venture is a social-media based coupon code website called CouponFollow which utilizes the Twitter API.

I generally cover shopping related APIs, but recently hackathon events have piqued my interest.   This past weekend I attended a two-day hackathon called “Reinventing Local”.  This event was hosted at General Assembly, a local co-working space for startups in NYC, and well-known in the entrepreneur community.  The theme was geared toward local businesses and was presented by American Express OPEN Forum, which I feel necessary to mention now has an API of their own allowing instant access to small business content.  The event was sponsored by Mashery (also a ProgrammableWeb sponsor), ConstantContact and Meetup.

The API Presentations

Several companies with services in the realm of “local” presented their APIs in hopes to inspire innovation as well as usage of their API in the developers’ hacks.  Some of the larger ones included Meetup, FourSquare, and ConstantContact.  And in the deals space YipIt and ThinkNear presented (both of which I covered in my previous post).  ThinkNear offers a slightly different business model than similar APIs, offering an easy way to monetize their location-based mobile with local deals and business ads, and works on a pay-per-click revenue model.  Other APIs included Ordr.in, Hyperpublic, Aviary, plus several more.

The Hacking

After the initial presentations were finished, developers and designers teamed up, formed ideas and then got straight to work.  During the hackathon I hovered around and talked to several different developers, and did a bit of hacking myself.  I sat next to Dylan who was working on a compact, embeddable widget, called Bpartment, which uses the FourSquare API and data from NYC Government to allow real estate agents to showcase critical information about their properties.  The widget may be highly useful to agents as it could potentially be dropped into any webpage the agent wants.

I also talked to a team working on “Fresh Tomatoes” – a true restaurant review mashup that hopes to showcase all reviews in an easy to read manner combining sources such as Yelp, FourSquare, Zaggat, and others into a single view.

After further wanderings I came across many more interesting ideas, and numerous developers were hacking for a good cause, working on applications and mashups for the local community to make processes more efficient.

One such was an app being worked on by a team of Alums from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.  A mobile application, entitled FarmTab, aimed to help stimulate local economies and foster community development by enabling customers to invest in the local farmers feeding their neighborhood.  What’s the customers’ incentive?  Discounts on their purchases from those farmers.

The Demos

After a long night (some until 2 AM – not me!) and a hurried next morning, teams finished up what they had and prepped for their demos.  The demo sessions went fairly smoothly, or about as smoothly as can be expected at these types of events.   In total there were 27 mashups presented, which took the allotted time, plus some.  Some of my personal favorites were wattsnear.me, Pongplaya, and EventLocally, and I’ve noted them below:

Wattsnear.me – Ever had your cell phone die?  You may feel like you’ve been cut off from the world.  With this app you can preempt this occurrence, and find an outlet near you to charge up!  It works on crowd-sourced information, NYC.gov data, and Mashery’s Core API.

Pongplaya – This one is a throw-back to the Atari era, a decade before my existence… So brush the dust off those old pong skills.  Here’s the twist: You could win yourself a free lunch or dinner, paid for by your opponent.  With my competitive nature, I may owe a few people dinner very soon.  It uses the Ordr.in API.

EventLocally.com – This is the self-proclaimed best way to create, discover and share spontaneous events that are happening around you.  I’m all about spontaneous hanging out, and so this is an instant win in my book.  They can definitely find a business model and perhaps monetize using an API like YipIt or ThinkNear.

The Prizes and Winners

The event (was free) had some very generous sponsors, donating over $10,000 in gift cash and prizes.  Yeah, walking away with $2,000 for a day and a half worth of effort isn’t too shabby.

Here’s the list of all those who achieved fame status:

Buildingly –Aims to be the best deals on the best stuff optimized for where you live & work.  A sweet User Interface, User Experience and very practical usage made this a clear choice as a big winner.  And win big they did.  At the end of the day they took home three of the prizes:  Best use of Amex OPEN Forum API, Best Use of Location, and Best Community Building… something to the tune of $4,200+ in cash and prizes.

Wander Mapper – Compares itself to the Sim City of your real life through FourSquare.  Their app lets you create an illustrated version of your Foursquare neighborhood, building a visual game on top of FourSquare’s existing technology.  The slick graphics, concept, and presentation helped to get this one the “Coolest Hack” award.

I Know the Owner – A merchant-focused mobile app which allows store owners to start and stop Foursquare specials, and see venue stats and info about who's checked in.  A smooth interface, and ability for merchants to instantly switch deals on during lulls or off during peaks, helped this achieve winner of the Local Business award presented by ConstantContact.

EatPager - Allows consumers to discover new restaurants in their area by paging through related photos, and ties in NYC sanitary rating data.  This can be great (or terrible) for the restaurants depending on the photos shown.  It received the best Use of Location Award, and was built using Foursquare and the NYC government data.

PoorSquare.us – Who doesn’t love free?  This app lets you find local restaurant freebie offerings and BXGX (Buy Something Get Something) Free promotions in your area.  This one was extremely well received, and one of the top crowd favorites.  Its practical, real-world usefulness helped it achieve the award for Best for Small Business Owners App.  Seriously though, if you live in New York, give it a try.

Final Thoughts

The food was great, and the environment was friendly.   It was nice to see people genuinely interested in not only the technology aspects, but also in creating innovative solutions for the local community.

Based on the turnout and overall success, I expect to see more events like this one in the near future.  There is another event coming up next week, called NYC BigApps 3.0 Hackathon, but it is already fully booked.  If you are interested in attending similar future events in your area you can sign up for Startup Digest, or search Eventbrite or Meetup.

Be sure to read the next Localization article: 88 Local APIs: Yahoo Local, Yelp and Zvents