Random Hacks Of Kindness Is A Hackthon For Saving Humanity
Patrick Svenburg (Washington DC) –
What happens when brainy folks from NASA, The World Bank, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google put their heads together to develop innovative solutions to humanity’s problems?
Random Hacks of Kindness, or RHoK, is about building a community of innovative people who can contribute technology expertise to help make the world a better place. Hacking for Humanity, as it were. According to their website,
RHoK brings software engineers together with disaster relief experts to identify critical global challenges, and develop software to respond to them. A RHoK Hackathon event brings together the best and the brightest hackers from around the world, who volunteer their time to solve real-world problems.
Hacking for Humanity in Washington, DC
RHoK recently completed its second successful hackathon on June 4-6,2010 at the Chevy Chase,MD offices of Microsoft (just outside Washington, DC), its first being held in Mountain View, CA during November 2009. The weekend kicked off with a reception at the U.S. State Department hosted by Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, Special Representative of the State Department’s Global Partnerships Initiative, and with a keynote by Curt Kolcun, Microsoft’s Vice President of its U.S. Public Sector division. Other presenters included the high-powered group of Linda Cureton, CIO of NASA; Pamela Cox, VP of the World Bank; and Vint Cerf, VP/Chief Internet Evangelist at Google.
The following morning, about 170 people decended on Microsoft’s offices for a weekend of hacking for humanity. This was also RHoK’s first global event – simultaneous hackathons were held in Chile, Brazil, Kenya, Indonesia, and Australia! Pretty amazing for such a new initiative, but that’s what can happen when influential organizations team up for public good. The events around the world also warranted plenty of media coverage in newspapers, blogs, and television, in numerous languages. (Check out this video from Al Hurra news.)
Falling into a “Chasm”
Of the many open source solutions that were submitted during the weekend hackathon, perhaps the most notable was named Chasm. Chasm provides a Web user interface and analytic software to help engineers and other people determine whether a landslide is likely to occur. A lot of the tools already existed; they were just not readily accessible or easy to use for people working in the field. Chasm’s solution is two-part: (1) A web interface for data entry, plotting and analysis, (2) A Windows application for visualization and interpretation of the data. As stated on the RHoK blog,
Chasm illustrates the great potential of the Random Hacks of Kindness initiative — when you bring together a committed volunteer team of developers and a subject matter expert with concrete problems to solve, magic can happen. Over the course of a single weekend, the Chasm team developed a hack that will be a vital tool on the for local engineers, and will save lives and alleviate suffering in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.
The World Bank has already expressed an interest in implementing Chasm in the field.
The Bottom Line
What’s the bottom line here? Talented experts from the private sector teaming up with public sector leaders, giving up their free time to develop open source solutions that help save lives and alleviate suffering around the world. Now that’s the kind of hacking we can all support.
Patrick Svenburg is the director of platform strategy for Microsoft’s U.S. Public Sector developer and platform evangelism group.
Photo of “humanity” by Daniel Latorre and used under a Creative Commons license.