So You Want to Hack – OpenHackDay #odhd Recap and Tips for developers and new hacks

I recently had the opportunity to attend a local hackday event, this local event here in Victoria planned by OpenDataBC was just one such event of many that took place in locations around the World.

The event took place on Saturday, Dec 3 as part of the Global hackday effort – a grassroots movement designed to bring more awareness to such events. I wanted to share the experience and encourage others to consider attending or planning a local Hack Day event.

ODHD Victoria

The event I went to, organized by the awesome team behind OpenDataBC, billed as open data hack day #odhd was actually the 17th local event which typically take place one Saturday a month – if you happen to be a local developer, social enthusiasts, or just plain interested in chasing an idea then you might consider taking part in the future. the events are open to all and local sponsorships are always welcomed!
I have to say, I was very impressed with the event from start to finish. Word was spread far and wide prior to Dec 3 so many locals knew it was going on. Some prime office space including WiFi, restrooms, desks etc… were donated by Refractions Research here in Victoria B.C – shout out to them! To keep us awake, motivated, and full, some awesome sponsors provided us with morning pastries, coffee, soda, and pizza – an awesome surprise! Finally, the last component to the mix was the attendees. We had a group of about a dozen local developers, novice hackers, social media enthusiasts, government, and business folk. The variety of the crowd proved very helpful, everyone having skills and experiences to share from a variety of disciplines.

So what happens or what do you do at a hack day? Well, using our day as a model, we started with introductions, followed that up with people pitching what kind of idea they had or what they felt they would like to work on. Some brought ideas, some had the wheels turning, others were there to help out or listen to what people were doing – this is a great way to get the wheels turning. For yours truly, I had several ideas but hadn’t really narrowed down a fixed project that I was going to tackle.

ODHD Victoria kicked off with introductions and people pitching their hack ideas

What I took away from the event was the networking and listening / watching people chase their ideas. I learned about some data resources that I wasn’t familiar with, heard about some excellent ideas for apps and web services, and watched people create and code, churning their ideas into something that could then be tested by others in the group or pitched to them for feedback and criticism. I was impressed with the ideas that people had and wowed even more with how far some of them had gone with their ideas during the day. For me, like usual, I brought too many ideas with me and had a little trouble getting focused. I also realized that quite often we are trying to accomplish too much in one solution, rather than getting focused and keeping it simple. As it turns out, a couple of the ideas I was most impressed with during the day were essentially very simple, however, they definitely served to deliver a solution that was needed and would be very useful. Indeed perhaps I need to learn to focus and keep it simple!

I did spend some time building on a previous project that I had started as a "testbed" using to visualize some of my existing geo-tagged social data products – see more details Mashup Tutorial with Flickr and Foursquare data

For myself, I spent much of my time seeking out data resources. In particular I was searching for local data products and feeds, things that are local in context and specific to our region. It became apparent to me that perhaps there was even less data out there than what I had expected and what was out there really wasn’t very usable. On the flip side, there exists many tools that are at our disposal that can really help. Using visual display environments from Google, Esri ( and Geocommons I spent my time testing various data feeds and WMS services and KML layers that I located on the web. I also poked around with Google Code and the various developer resources from Google, trying to identify some resources that I might use for a project once I get a little more focused. Google docs, fusion tables, Google places are just some of the things I explored a little more.

When it came to data I spent some time looking for sources that I felt could be useful. Naturally, there’s loads of social media and social layers out there including Twitter, foursquare, flickr, and youtube so I poked around, searching for ways to access and scrape the data that I was interested in… this proved challenging at times. Quick mashups were easily created and shared using tools like Google maps,, Geocommons, and Bing Maps although I have to admit I was quite impressed with the tools and capabilities provided by openlayers, something I plan to look at much closer in the future. Openlayers is an open developer environment and toolset available to developers. Data was tricky, however, it is out there but you may have to be patient… it also helps to have some good contacts! I really was disappointed with what was available with our own local government agencies (they really could take a lesson from the City of Nanaimo and Surrey, B.C) although at the Provincial level there was some good finds during the day although finding and accessing what you need can be pretty tricky – does it really need to be so tough to get at public data?



Overall, our local hackday was an awesome event and I’ll definitely be back again, hopefully every month. I’m now trying to focus on an idea and will put in some time to get better prepared for the next event. For the community, I’d suggest that anyone who’s remotely interested in learning about developing apps and services to give it a go. Data publishers and stake holders, I’d encourage them to attend and encourage or help people to look at your data. For local governments that are publishing data or working harder at becoming a platform for citizens this could be a great pace to make a 5 or 10 minute pitch about what your doing. Business people, developers, and others will find these to be great networking events and could even be a place where you can find some talent to help your business. 


Tip – A Google Places how to:

How to… Get your Google Places reviews as a feed Your rating & review data is your own. We want to make sure you always have access to your data, in its entirety, on demand, and in a convenient format. This allows you to keep your data for your own personal storage or share your content with other sites. To get your reviews as an Atom feed, follow these steps:
Sign in to Google Places.
Click your photo in the upper left corner. This opens your profile page.
Scroll to the bottom of the page and select See reviews as a feed link.

Projects revealed at the YYJ hackday (sourced from here)

  • Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the project team created a map of community services that are accessible by walk-in –
  • Geoenabling BC’s Official Places in Twitter: The project team wants to create a Twitter #hashtag for every official place in BC. Could be used eventually by
  • Map of Development and Liquor License Applications in Victoria
  • Modelled after Mapit UK, People can input a postal code or a point such as  latitude and longitude and the app will map surrounding administrative polygons, such as municipal boundaries. The project team is working on a Mapit for Canada
  • Geocoding BC School Locations and Test Results
  • Nanaimo Business Registration hack
  • Google Fusion Tables were used to visualize health trends over the last 10 years
  • Visualization of MSP (health) Payments by Practitioners

So what kinds of things were going on at our event and at other hack events?

  • One group of non-developers started a list of available icons for a food project. The list is on google docs and open so others can contribute
  • Mapbox maps all the legislators influencing the house ag committee and their contact info
  • Vancouver hackers tackled different areas. Bikes, Trash, Libraries, Transit, Food…
  • Waterloo region waste data into Recollect and Spreadsheet Gutter, JSON CSV service –
  • Search #odhd for more


On Twitter @Data_BC @opendataBC @herblainchbury @daeaves

BC, Canada Data and OpenData tools and Resources


Google Tools

Other Useful Map, WMS, and mapping Tools and developer resources


Useful Hack Related Articles


Planning a Hack Day Event? IF so you’ll need to do the following:

  • Put the word out on social media and get the help of local mavens and vocal opendata enthusiasts to help spread the word
  • Try to secure a food sponsor or 2 along with a local company that can offer up some meeting space along with wifi
  • Prmote the event widely on social media
  • Find local hackers and invite them to come
  • Tell some local opensource businesses and enthusiasts about it and welcome them along
  • Set the time and date, conder using a registration page
  • Document the ideas and hacks using a shared document
  • Meetup, serve coffee and food… HACK!
  • Repeat as often as possible!

See Also – Slideshare presentation – The Open Data Hackathon How to Guide

Editor (18230 Posts)

Glenn is a geographer and a GIS professional with over 20 years experience in the industry. He's the co-founder of GISuser and several other technology web publications.

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