Little OpenAustralia Hackfest, Big Results

Cross-posted on the Official Google Australia Blog.

A couple of weeks ago we at the OpenAustralia Foundation – Australia’s open data, open government and civic hacking charity – asked if anyone wanted to join three of our volunteers at Google Sydney for a hackfest. The request was deliberately casual as we just wanted have a bit of fun over a weekend sharing what we where doing and working on the open source projects that OpenAustralia runs.

The hackfest started on Saturday with about a dozen volunteers coming along and listening to quick introductory talks from Matthew and myself. We reminded everyone of the different projects that the foundation runs:, Election Leaflets and PlanningAlerts.

Most people decided to hack on PlanningAlerts, a project which allows people to get alerts about what is being built or knocked down in their area. Using an online tool called ScraperWiki you can quickly and easily contribute new planning authorities to PlanningAlerts. During the two afternoons (true hackers aren’t morning people!) our volunteers took up the challenge to write ScraperWiki scrapers for PlanningAlerts with zeal.

Seven people wrote scrapers for nineteen planning authorities like Hobart City Council, Redfern-Waterloo Authority or Townsville City Council all around Australia, including councils in two states we previously didn’t cover – Western Australia and Tasmania.

What does this mean in practical terms? An additional 1,823,124 Australians can now find out what’s happening in their local community using PlanningAlerts. This is a huge result, coming from a relatively modest effort and a small group of people.

A massive thank you to all of the volunteers that attended the hackfest, especially the following people that wrote scrapers: Sam Cavenagh, Nick Evershed, Mark Kinkade, Matthew Landauer, James Polley, Kris Splittgerber and Adam Stiskala. Let’s do this again some time.

And don’t forget to remind your friends and family to sign up for PlanningAlerts!

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