It was 10am. I arrived quite promptly at Google Seattle after rushing through getting on the bus. I received the Meetup notification email few days ago but I did not get the chance to clear the email till the night before. I decided to hit the green RSVP button after seeing the venue is at Google Seattle, because I have never been there before and the half-a-day hackathon would not take too much of my time compared to a regular weekend long hackathon, so I decided to give it a try.
Upon arriving breakfast was served. After grabbing coffee and donuts and mingled for a little, we headed to the main room for Open Data Talks. It opened my eyes that there has been great progress — organizations and individuals are working to make the government’s data more transparent. When Neil who represents The City of Seattle was giving his talk about metadata at https://data.seattle.gov, the word “stolen bicycle” suddenly flashed in my mind. I had this idea of working on the website about raising awareness about bike thieves after my bicycle get stolen for the third time. My housemate once teased me that I have to make police report about my stolen bicycles every year on average, since I moved to Seattle for about 3 years now. My first bicycle, which was a Trek Navigator was fortunate enough to get recovered by Edmonds Police. My latest bicycle that got stolen, was a Montague Hummer bike in black — it is a unique bike that is rarely found in the University District neighborhood and yet, it was ridiculously stolen at my apartment’s basement parking lot, which requires passcode for the entrance.
I just jot down my ideas on the Hackpad provided. When the talk was over, I saw Will was distributing these cardboards with the ideas listed on the Hackpad. I did not expect that my idea was in one of these white cardboards handed out for participants who wish to pitch, because my idea came in pretty late and I did not even prepare to come to the hackathon and pitch! But then I saw the big words “Stolen Bikes”, and I approached Will to claim the cardboard. Again with the “why not” attitude, thinking I am just throwing ideas out there, I am perfectly fine if the idea did not get executed, and so I went to pitch.
Visualizing Stolen Bicycles with Maps
Surprisingly, the idea gained traction. Charles, who is a Stack developer approached me first, and then Andre, who is a web developer and programmer, and then Marina and Ali. I pitched at several different hackathons before, including Startup Weekend Seattle that happened last year, about my bike sharing project and at AngelHack, about a mobile app that can generate .otf or .ttf fonts from your handwriting. But both of them failed to get people’s attention, and I did not manage to form a team. I even asked to join Will’s team who was working on the waiting time visualization caused by Metro Bus cut, because I thought I could not form a team. But this time I did, and I am glad I did it. Well, maybe people were sympathy about my stolen bikes story ;)
We started to brainstorm and tried to narrow down the scope that we should work on. We were looking at sources from data.seattle.gov, StolenBicycleRegistry and Craigslist, and we were considering whether we should pull all the data from all these sources, and visualize it with maps. We could not really pull data from Craigslist because it has to be parsed data and the current state is not so, unless we manually input the information. We were also thinking about our target audiences — whether it would be useful for bike owners, local bike shop owners, or even just common citizens. Charles proposed to start with the Lean Canvas. I was in charge of facilitating the whole discussion, everyone sort of contributed their thoughts — and it took off.
With that said, the possibilities of this project are endless, since everything can be lost — your bicycles, your car or your dog. We were thinking of if given the chance we can parse information from Craigslist’s posts, the infobox can include the images of the stolen bicycles, or users can submit one. Besides, we can also implement Twilio to send notification texts to locals if say, more than 100 bicycles are stolen for the past week and it can raise awareness and reminds citizens to be more conscious in that way.
Footnote: I have been struggling to post this here at Medium because it’s more like my journal and this post has much more photos than the average Medium posts supposed to be. But I was frustrated with Tumblr’s 500px low resolution text post photos and the limitation of having only 10 images on image post. The idea is just to share my experiences with others. Feel free to send me a tweet on Twitter if you have any feedback for me ☺
Feel free to fork: https://github.com/lcdvirgo/stolenbikesSEA