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5:00 pm
Fri October 5, 2012

Don't Get Hacked: A Judge's Tips for Success at the 2012 Election Hackathon

Originally published on Wed October 17, 2012 11:03 am

This weekend, NPR is joining forces with The Washington Post and Sunlight Foundation to host a competition especially for the computer programmers and software developers of the nation's capital, the 2012 Election Hackathon.

This an opportunity for developers to showcase their skills as they build apps related to the upcoming presidential election, using data from the Application Programming Interfaces (API) of The Washington Post, NPR, and Sunlight Labs.

API, what API?
Kate Myers, a product manager with the NPR Social Media team, explains that the NPR API is essentially a collection of components and assets from NPR content. NPR was an early mover in opening its API to the public back in 2008, and since then, we have seen it change the ways listeners experience NPR content.

For example, the NPR mobile apps were built from the NPR API. Same with the NPR app for Google TV; you can watch NPR's best video and multimedia slideshows on the TV thanks the our open API.

Get judged.
For some insider information on what to expect at the Election Hackathon, we went straight to the source: Brian Boyer, head of the news applications team at NPR, who is also one of the judges at this weekend's Elections Hackathon.

Boyer recently moved to Washington, D.C. from Chicago, where he was already a national leader in data journalism, transforming massive amounts of data into visual components and web apps to complement news stories at the Chicago Tribune.

This Sunday, he'll be assessing the apps built at the Hackathon along with Ezra Klein of Wonkblog at the Washington Post; Rob Malda, chief strategist and editor-at-Large for the newspaper's WaPo Labs team; and Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation.

How to win (sort of) and other musings.
Boyer is expecting this D.C. event will draw a mix of data journalists, students, tech professionals, software developers and programmers that share an interest in to socially conscious projects. But for Boyer, the winners will share something more - usefulness - which he considers as the key ingredient in creating great apps.

"It's okay to make a data visualization or something else that's illustrative, but I prefer things that people can use, tools that let folks find their own story, how they fit in and how the data effects their life," he says.

Then Boyer shared a tip for those competing in the hackathon, which he uses with his own team before beginning any new project. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are your users?
  • What are their needs?
  • What can you build to fulfill those needs?

Both Boyer and Myers said that while often there isn't enough time to fully complete the project you work on at the event, it is still productive. Products from hackathons serve as early prototypes for usable software that can be further developed down the road and create an opportunity for developers to connect with professionals in their field.

And if that doesn't draw you in, snacks, treats, food and more snacks are a given at any hack event.

Now what?
There's still time to sign up for the Election Hackathon this weekend.

However, if you can't make it to the event, don't think your skills are up to snuff or just want updates on what the hack is going on this weekend, Myers will be on the floor both days.

You can follow her @NPRKate for updates from the Election Hackathon this weekend, and check out the latest projects from our own news apps team @NPRApps.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.