Teenagers show UK Govt how web/mobile services should be done

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If we assume that the secret to successful tech startups is an elegant solution to a common problem, easily monetized and marketed to a receptive audience, then Young Rewired State probably saw the birth of five or more successful startups of the future, hacked together by a group of very motivated teenagers over 24 hours.

The hack day, organised by Rewired State, was held at Google’s London Victoria offices over the weekend. It brought together 50 young developers aged 15-18 (of which, only three were girls), giving them access to experienced mentors, non-personal government data and as is customary at events like this, an unlimited supply of sugar and caffeine.

A total of 16 hacks were presented. The winners were:

Most likely to be bought by Google: TFHell

This mobile web app solved the problem of knowing whether or not your London bus is running on time, using the data that buses relay to bus stop display screens indicating how long before they arrive. It relied on screenscraped data from Transport For London, which is notorious for walling off its data. Google Maps already supports this feature in the US, making this app the strongest contender in this category.

“Wish I’d thought of that!”: Will Work For Peanuts

This website to connect teens looking for tech work experience with companies in need of talent garnered much praise from the audience, but it definitely rankled for me. The UK labour market is already horribly skewed towards the exploitation of unpaid interns in the name of “something impressive to add to your CV”. Working for peanuts, I can understand, especially if it’s for charities and non-profit organisations – but this site advocates working for no nuts, as it were.

Most likely to antagonise the CIO council: How’s my Train?

This nifty hack created very informative visualisations of statistics for individual train routes, based on an archive of existing train punctuality data. This made a more relevant service for commuters than the officially published statistics which only show the performance stats for a route per quarter.

Best in Show: School Routr 2.0 Beta

This project aggregates news reports about street crime from Google/Yahoo, extracts road and town names and then mashes them up with Google Maps to help users plot the “safest” route to school, avoiding places where stabbings, muggings and other assaults have been reported.

A few hacks gained special mention:

Theory Test: ‘liberated’ the driving theory test data to create an open/free practise site;
Blogotics: plots public opinion of Parliamentary bills based on blog posts mentioning the bill;
Unicloud: creating a better search interface to UCAS data; and
Blab to Betty: SMS-based sexual health Q&A service.

The hacks were judged by Mark O’Neill, CIO at Department of Culture, Media and Sport; Ben Hammersley, associate editor of Wired UK; Craig Elder, communities manager for the Conservative Party; Helen Milner, CIO of UK Online centres; JP Rangaswami, MD of design at BT; Diana Johnson, MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools; Mike Hoban, who recently took up the mantle of communications and engagement at Directgov; and Dan Heaf of Channel 4’s 4iP innovation fund.

  • Mike

    “…Rewired State probably saw the birth of five or more successful startups of the future…”

    Start-ups of the future? Yeah, right… because there is just a HUGE market for searching out the school route that is least likely to result in a stabbing… And I’m sure Google are just beating down the door to buy a bus time tables app.

    Care to explain how ANY of the above mentioned ‘hacks’ are “…easily monetized …” ???

    *shakes head*

    • http://gedanken451.wordpress.com/ Bryant

      Mike,

      I’d like to reiterate (Stephen beat me to it) that when these ideas were thought up we were simply attempting to come up with something interesting, vaguely original and data-related, rather than something to make us rich.

      In addition, please bear in mind most of the apps on show were hacked together in a great rush in two days, often mostly put together by two or three coders (in our group’s case, ‘will work for peanuts’, the whole PHP/MySQL backend was “managed” by myself) owing to the large variety of talent, meaning most were mere proof-of-concepts which can be scaled up to cover a broader spectrum of applications. The school route idea may seem ridiculously esoteric / niche to you, but with a sufficient data source it can be scaled up to plan routes around other forms of undesirable events; what I’m essentially saying is I don’t think you appreciate the scalability of some of the hacks created.

      Anyways, it would have been nice for me not to have had to defend myself and others for trying to come up with good ideas.

      Bryant

      • http://gedanken451.wordpress.com/ Bryant

        Oh – forgot to say, you’d be surprised how important children are to parents ;)

        It was a great weekend – thanks to everyone who organised it!

    • http://denny.me Denny

      Did you read the bus app description? It’s not a time-table, it’s live service status updates. I can think of at least three people in my extended online connection group who’ve mentioned wanting such a thing (in blog posts/comments or twitter/facebook statuses) in the last month or two alone.

      Perhaps you don’t rely on London buses for your commute?

  • Nomad

    When you were at school were you ever ridiculed because you didn’t come up with a million-dollar idea?

    Cut them some slack, eh?

  • http://stemount.co.uk Stephen Mount

    Mike,

    I understand where you’re coming from as you’ve picked up as a “start-up” as a commercial entity. None of the hack teams were considering monetising them and/or turning them into a commercial service them because at the end of the day the point in the event is that tried to make government data presentable and to show the government where government data was lacking.

    Stephen.

  • Mike

    I think people are slightly missinterpreting what I said.

    Personally, I think it’s great that 15-18 year olds can bash together useful projects in a short space of time – they have an exceptionally bright future.

    My comment was more focused on the style of OTT journalism that typically crops up when ever a story involves children and original thought.

    I’m just being a miserable old git, please ignore me! :)

  • http://www.usbwifi.co.uk Jon Mobile

    I think the bus thing could be pretty useful. I mean you could hang out at your mate’s house/the pub and not bother getting up for the bus if you know already that it’s not coming on time. You could arrive at the stop at nearly the same time as the bus instead of waiting around in the cold.

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  • jay

    Take a look at Guvna Bs page. Hes an upcoming gospel/christian rapper!

    lets promote the positive young people instead of the negative.

    http://www.myspace.com/guvnab

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