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Hackathon Aims to Improve the San Francisco Experience

New applications and platforms can lead to better service for tourists and citizens, said San Francisco Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath.

On April 19 and 20, San Francisco will host a weekend hackathon dedicated to improving how residents and tourists experience The City by the Bay. 

The event, called the DiscoverSF challenge, will begin the morning of April 19 and conclude the evening of April 20, and is sponsored by Esri and Airbnb, the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation formed partnerships with local data partners and community partners that will assist local developers and entrepreneurs in developing ideas for the event.

During a Google Hangout on April 12, San Francisco Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath briefly explained the structure and purpose of the event: On Friday, he said, participants will form teams, and subject-matter experts from the city’s partners will discuss some of the challenges and possibilities around their products and data. The data partners involved in the event are DataSF, Eventbrite, Eventfinda, Yelp and Wunderground. On Saturday evening, the best ideas will be picked as winners, Nath said, and the city will check back a few months later to see how development of those ideas went.

“We want to help the best ideas become products,” he said. “We’re looking to provide them with co-working space, other assets to help them build out a real product. If there’s a great solution out there, we’re on the other side, ready to invest in that.”

Molly Turner, director of public policy for Airbnb, said she thinks it’s wise that the mayor has combined his open data priorities along with his neighborhood development initiatives, and noted that a recent Airbnb-commissioned study found that repeat visitors to a city don't typically want to visit the usual tourist attractions on repeat visits. In that vein, it will be through new tools created by developers during the challenge, she said, that tourists and residents are able to better explore San Francisco.

And on the whole, people still have questions about the physical and cultural geography of their cities, said Esri's Bronwyn Agrios. The purpose of this challenge, she noted, will be to build upon the foundations that companies like Airbnb and Esri have created, and developers will be encouraged during the event to use Esri and Airbnb APIs, to ask questions and to explore new ideas.

“We’re strong advocates of open data, but we also strongly believe that opening the data is not the final solution,” she said. “We need to give these creative communities access to the tools that will allow them to make sense of the data.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock


Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.