Emerging Tech

Are Civic Hackathons Stupid?

Hackers work during the 2011 HackNY Student Hackathon.

Hackers work during the 2011 HackNY Student Hackathon. // HackNY

No idea ever gets too popular without a bit of a backlash. And now this is happening to the once-obscure civic hackathon. Just a few years ago, such app-developing marathons were rare, and the idea behind them sounded even stranger: Who would willingly give up a weekend to code municipal data for free? As it turns out, lots of people. And lots of governments, from City Hall to the White House, have embraced the model as a way to connect to a younger generation of residents, and to leverage their (free) tech skills.

We've heard the argument before that hackathons aren't all they're cracked up to be, even that they're downright bad for you. Last year, Jake Levitas, the research director at the San Francisco-based Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, joked with us about their sudden ubiquity as a problem-solver: "We’re hearing from the mayor’s office like, ‘a cat got stuck in a tree, can we have a hackathon to get it down?'"

Now the critique, in particularly blunt language, is coming from the former chief technology officer of the tech-friendly city of Seattle. Bill Schrier writes on his personal blog this week that hackathons and the like were "kinda cool" when they were new in 2008.

Read more at Atlantic Cities.

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