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Mobile Media "Hackathon" Demonstrates New Model for Prototyping News Tools

Journalists and programmers converged on Chicago to create prototypes ofiPhone app six mobile applications as part of the Independent Media Mobile Hackathon on Oct 9-10. Over the two-day convening, sponsored by The Media Consortium and Hacks/Hackers more than 50 participants broke into teams to develop competing smart phone applications aimed at bridging user engagement, journalism and fun. Reflecting the popularity of games, the teams were urged to use "game logic" in their creations, all of which were built using open source code.

The winning application, Riotstartr, is designed to help people organize events, track attendance and report from the event (see the presentation below to see how this might work for the upcoming Rally to Restore Sanity). It can also assist journalists in creating more accurate crowd counts, and generate buzz by showing attendees converging on the event in real time. Other applications included; zin.gr, designed to provide witty, accurate comebacks for political arguments and iBreakNews for citizen journalists to not only break news, but to use GPS to track how close they are to news stories.

The Hackathon marks a growing trend in collaborative efforts between news organizations and developers. “Journalists and programmers have a commonality in figuring how to best convey information for the public good,” said Associate Director Erin Polgreen.“The relationship has been growing in recent years because journalism now means more than just a written article.”

By bringing the people from both professions together from a multitude of organizations the Hackathon, and events like it, are able to achieve more together than any organization is able to alone. This event draws upon previous collaborative efforts by The Media Consortium, including the Digital Innovation Studio and an Innovation and Incubation Lab, both of which connect media organizations to experiment on a scale they could not achieve alone.

For this event, they coordinated with hacks/hackers,a network founded a little over a year ago with the goal to share knowledge, information and code to shape the future of media, Hacks/Hackers is spreading. Now it has chapters across the country in Austin, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles and overseas in London and Birmingham. The organization offers a variety of resources to bridge the gap between the "hacks" and the "hackers," including this handy Survival Glossary.

Now that the Hackathon is over, the six prototypes will go back to the members of The Media Consortium who will decide which ones they will continue to develop. “The participants are charged up about continuing their products,” says Polgreen