Hackfort – a Review

South By Southwest has an adorable younger sister – Treefort Music Fest. It started in 2012 as a four-day festival featuring emerging artists. Strategic scheduling draws bands from the Northwest who are on their way home from SXSW (I heard it said that it’s being touted as the best showcase of Portland bands as a result, although I cannot quote the source).  Boise’s oft dreamy late March weather coupled with its walkability and affordability has made Treefort a roaring success with locals and a pleasant surprise to first-time visitors. Each year, it has expanded to include additional “forts” with everything from craft beer (Alefort) to meditative exercise (Yogafort). Chris and I attended every Treefort so far. This year, I wanted to leave myself more time to visit my friends and old stomping grounds, so I opted out of the full Treefort pass. Instead, I attended just the tech conference arm – Hackfort.

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Boise gets festooned for Treefort

Right off the bat, I did not fit in with the other attendees in terms of tech savvy (basically the entire audience whooped when the moderator mentioned the recent publication of Boise’s GIS data…um?). There were problems with the wifi on the first day, which I never think should happen in a tech event and which always seems to. For my money (okay, all $20 of it), the content was light on technical information and heavy on panellists’ opinions of Boise (overwhelmingly positive). It devolved into a cheerleading session for Boise within the first hour.

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My official-looking Hackfort badge. No fluorescent wristbands here!

However, it revolved around a really great idea – participants were challenged to create an app for the city using the open GIS data over the course of the conference. In addition to panellists emoting about Boise, there were hack sessions to encourage participants to collaborate, work late and create great apps. Developers from out of state created the winning app, Datefort (go out-of-towners!). It uses the city data to recommend an activity (like “Play bocce in Julia Davis Park”) and yelp to recommend a restaurant for dinner. The finished product is very cute. If Calgary had a similar app (Date Island?) I would download it.

Side note to all app developers – if you have created a cool app that is specifically for your city, province, country, etc., I would like to partner with you to bring that app to my city, province, country, etc. I have to learn how to make apps first (details!), but I’m smart and I will do a good job. Datefort, KillBiller, I’m talking to you!

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Outside the newly uber-chic Owyhee, where Hackfort was held.

My overall impression is that Hackfort has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as Treefort – it’s a good idea in a fun city, but it suffers from immaturity, kinks need to be worked out. I would like to see a Hackfort with fewer panellists discussing overly discussed topics and more workshops and presentations on technical advances. I think I will attend in the future because I want to find out how/if it matures and I really want to win a Hackathon challenge!

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