Omaha Food Fight, an app that challenges users to guess the cleanliness of local food establishments, won first place over the weekend at the inaugural Hack Omaha, a programming competition, in the style of Startup Weekend, that required teams to base their projects on datasets of public government information.
The event, produced and hosted by the Omaha World-Herald, brought out more than 50 developers, designers, journalists and civic instigators. The World-Herald supplied datasets to the competitors and required each project be, in the spirit of the event, open-sourced. Nine apps were built, and of the eight that were pitched to a panel of judges on Sunday night, Safe Omaha and Slum Lord Next Door earned recognition as runners-up. Projects were judged on four criteria: revelation – “all products should answer a question or tell people something they didn’t know” – completion, creativity and design.*
“The whole concept behind (Omaha Food Fight) was to simply answer the question of, ‘Does your perception of restaurant (sanitation) and cleanliness match that of the (Douglas County Health Department)”‘ ” said Food Fight’s Nate Ryan, a mobile developer and gamification enthusiast. The Douglas County Health Department gives restaurants one of four ratings – fair (lowest), standard, excellent and superior (highest).
Food Fight, which is available for download in Google Play, presents a user with the names of two local food establishments – restaurants make up a majority of the list, but places such as school and hospital cafeterias are also included – and asks the user to guess which establishment has a better rating. After the selection, the user learns the correct answer, and the user’s “inspector rating” goes up or down. The Food Fight team included (above, from far left) Ryan, Steve Samson, Matt Steele and Mike Ask (not pictured).
Omaha Food Fight makes users the “inspector” as they try to guess which restaurant had a higher Douglas County Health Department rating.
“We wanted to try to find a way to take the data that was already available, which is kind of bland … and make it more interesting,” Steele said, “and also try to get some additional data from what it was that we were building.”
The additional information – a user rating and score – is presented on Food Fight’s website, omahafoodfight.org. The team said they hope to see other cities use their posted source code to create apps for their own food establishments.
Food Fight’s website displays inspector ratings and user ratings
Matt Wynn, the organizer of Hack Omaha and a World-Herald reporter, said he was surprised to see gamification used in the competition.
“I just didn’t see that coming … my approach is this data has value, let’s allow it to be as valuable as possible,” Wynn said, “and the approach of these guys was ‘How can we make this fun?’ That was cool.”
Wynn, who’s been involved with data journalism for five years, said he believes events like Hack Omaha giving a glimpse of what’s to come in the newsroom.
“I think the developers in the newsroom are the future of the news,” Wynn said. “Right now, (the World-Herald has) two and a half developers in the newsroom. I see that number increasing — certainly the percentage increasing — and these guys showed why.”
There was no official word Sunday as to whether Hack Omaha would return in 2013. But based on the crowd’s response – an enthusiastic “yes” – and Wynn’s optimism, it sounds like a possibility.
“I think there needs to be 10 of these,” Steele said when asked for his reaction to the event.
For the teams of Hack Omaha, see “The nine teams of Hack Omaha, a public data competition“, and stay tuned for a video the pitches.
Update 2:30 p.m. – Added judging criteria to article.
Disclosure: Silicon Prairie News is a media sponsor of Hack Omaha.