Twenty-four software applications designed for the benefit of East Bay, Calif., residents were developed in whirlwind fashion Saturday at the inaugural Alameda County Apps Challenge 2012 — a “hackathon” in Castro Valley.

An award of $3,000 went to a trio of developers who came up with the winning app. Dubbed BookIT, the software allows smartphone users to locate and check out any book available in the Alameda County Library system by finding the book in a retail outlet and scanning its bar code.

“It’s a fully functional app — and they proved it,” said Tim Dupuis, interim director of information technology for the county. “They found and checked out a book from their phone, and they [wrote the app code] in five hours. It was a unanimous decision by the judges.”

A hundred and twenty developers and other people simply with software ideas attended the day-long event at the Castro Valley Library. The focus, Dupuis said, was to develop apps to serve Alameda County and its residents.

“We’re ecstatic about the results,” Dupuis said. “We weren’t sure how many people we were going to get. It far exceeded our expectations. We thought we’d have six or seven 3-minute demonstrations of apps, and we had 24. It really blew the event’s time frame.”

Dupuis noted that the event drew a diverse group of participants, from seniors to youth. A duo in the latter category, from Castro Valley High School, was awarded $1,500 for their second-place app that locates and maps sites in Alameda County parks for specific activities, such as walking dogs or hiking on trails.

“The presentation they put together — it was just polished,” Dupuis said. “If you didn’t know they were high-school students, you wouldn’t believe it.”

Dupuis said event planners got the interest of computer classes at Castro Valley High, San Leandro High and Arroyo High in San Lorenzo through outreach to county schools.

The third-place award of $500 went to the developers of  SNAP Mapper, named for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that provides benefits to low-income families for purchasing food.

“People on [Electronic Benefits Transfer] are usually coming from communities where they don’t have healthy choices for groceries,” Dupuis said. “By default, they perhaps end up going to less-healthy places. [The app] mapped out based on our data where healthier choices were and gave driving directions.”

Runner-up apps included other mapping apps to locate “green” businesses and places to properly dispose of out-of-date prescription drugs — “A lot of things you want to do but don’t know how to do it,” Dupuis said. “You could basically put a shopping list together.”

The event was the first of its kind for Alameda County and one in a growing trend of similar events designed to solicit and encourage ideas for mobile applications from the public who will use them, as well as to emphasize open government and share data. Other such events have been held in San Francisco and Oakland, Dupuis said, as well as in other cities across the country.

“Usually, these hackathons have been done in very urban spaces,” Dupuis said. “We held ours in the suburbs. Castro Valley has a new library, very high-tech. It was a way to try to focus not just on the urban areas, but on the entire county. We had a hunch there were a number of the [software] development community in the county.

“That’s what’s interesting about this whole concept,” he added. “The community is saying, ‘Put this data out there.’ We’re going to create things that we as a county may not have thought of for the good of the community; that’s the beauty of it. We don’t know what they’re going to create (and) we can’t predict what their return on investment will be, but we know it’ll benefit the community.”

Information on future events is available at code.acgov.org and a repository of the apps’ data at data.acgov.org.

Photo of the Castro Valley Library courtesy of bluegreenbldg.org

Dave Moseley  |  Contributing Writer