Bogota's First Hacks/Hackers Chapter to Build Crowdsourced Environmental Map

Jun 52012
  • Journalists and technology experts gather in Colombia for the second meeting of Hacks/Hackers Bogota. (Photo by Luis Bentancourt)

Our newly-formed chapter of Hacks/Hackers in Bogota is losing no time in getting to work. At our second meeting on May 29, the 40 journalists and developers present agreed to begin a first project: an online, crowdsourced map to share information about environmental problems in the capital.

The idea is to establish a website for citizens to report on environmental issues – issues like cleaning up a park in a specific neighborhood, addressing city-wide water pollution or highlighting the daily drama of maneuvering through Bogota’s never-ending traffic jams and gridlock.

It’s another step forward for the Bogota chapter of Hacks/Hackers, which I helped set up as part of the work I am doing in Colombia as a Knight International Journalism Fellow. Chapter co-organizer Renata Cabrales, social media editor at ICFJ partner El Tiempo, and I got the idea for an environmental map over coffee a few months ago. This was before a Bogota Hacks/Hackers chapter was a speck on our digital horizon.

The environmental map, one of eight projects proposed, got the most votes as the kickoff project. We’d be lying if we said we weren’t thrilled. The truth is that the other proposals were so good, we almost forgot to put our idea into the mix. It wasn’t until one of the people at our meeting asked, “What about your proposal?” that we thought, "Oops," and put our plan on the table.

Other proposals for projects we hope to pick up at a later date include a plan to develop greater security for mobile apps, data-management programs to make public information more accessible to the public and other data-visualization projects.

The Bogota chapter is perhaps the newest international chapter. We came into being in late April. In just a month’s time, we have made it onto the official Hacks/Hackers roll and on May 31, passed the 100-member mark.

The icing on the cake: the people who are part of the chapter, who bring their knowledge and enthusiasm. One member, Camilo Andrés García, better known by his twitter handle, @hyperconectado, is the author of a book on hacking, “Mucho Hacker.” He was our guest speaker.

We are getting high marks online, too. Web developer Camilo Uribe called the meeting, "Excellent. I was happy when I left because we had already decided on a project."

Now, of course, we have to deliver. The next step is to lay the groundwork for the plan that will put our Bogota chapter to work on the crowdsourced environmental map, by forming teams on the hacks and the hackers side of our equation to get going.

Hacks/Hackers was founded in San Francisco in 2009, as a way to bring together “hacks” – a word journalists sometimes use to describe themselves – and “hackers,” or the developers who work with codes. It now has more than 10,000 members with chapters in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the United States.

For ICFJ, the proposed Bogota Hacks/Hackers environmental map is a perfect complement to the other projects we are realizing in Colombia – a crowdsourced crime map with El Tiempo, and another online map looking at corruption with journalist and citizen input. We are partnering on that project with the Consejo de Redacción, an organization of investigative journalists.

As the Knight International Journalism Fellow in Colombia, seeding Hacks/Hackers here is a perfect complement to the other projects we are realizing in Colombia with partners ET and the Consejo.