Yackathon 2016: Yelp’s Community Hackathon!

Yelp’s second community hackathon— The Yackathon  wrapped recently in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. You might think this is a surprising place for a SF-based company like Yelp to throw a hackathon but, as our visiting engineers saw, the tech scene in this lovely French Canadian city is buzzing, friendly, and passionate about open data — just like Yelp!

An incredibly diverse group of participants came together over the weekend to compete including: post-doctoral neurologists, meteorologists, masters of engineering, urban planners, health psychologists, illustrators, and self-described ‘corporate drones’ fleeing their cubicles for the weekend (fly free!). In total 15 teams delved into Yelp’s open API and Academic Dataset over the weekend, and met our challenge to mash up our data with any other open data set.

All the final projects blew us away. One group created an app called find-ER that helped users find their way to the highest Yelp-rated hospital with the lowest wait times; one called SweetSpot showed the best places to open a new business and linked directly to available commercial properties; another tracked the impact of local arts festivals on the Yelp reviews for small businesses; another examined the relationship between health inspection fines and Yelp ratings. The 15 final projects revealed new ways to make the currents of data that run through our cities visible. Team MTL Pulse, which won in two categories, made a visualization that shows check-ins at different categories of businesses at different times of day, and it’s an awesome representation of Yelp data (and Yelpers!) at work in our cities.

The Yelp Community Yackathon in Montreal benefitted from local partnerships that helped us find and support our participants in their quest to dig into interesting datasets and develop their project ideas. Notably, this year we worked under the umbrella of Montreal’s Digital Spring, a collection of over 150 events celebrating digital art, music, and entrepreneurship. With the Digital Spring, we kicked off Yackathon weekend with a public round table discussion about open data and data visualization featuring local (and one international!) data experts: Beatrice Couture, Director General of InnoCité MTL Canada’s first Smart City Accelerator, Stéphane Guidoin, Open data chief advisor at the Smart and Digital City Office of the City of Montreal, Audrée Lapierre, Creative Director and Co-founder of FFunction a dataviz and UX design studio, Roberto Rocha, data journalist at CBC News and Srivatsan Sridharan, Engineering Manager at Yelp in San Francisco.

Srivatsan Sridharan:

“I will admit that when I was up there on the stage for a panel discussion, I was incredibly nervous. I did not expect to see so many people! The tech scene here in Montreal is rocking! Over the course of the Yackathon, I interacted with students, professional software engineers, and startup founders — many of them from diverse backgrounds, but all sharing a common enthusiasm and passion for technology. The heart warming moment for me was to see people, who had never met each other, come together to create really cool and inspiring projects. From a mashup of Montreal Health Inspection data with Yelp Listings to a visualization showing the pulsing heartbeat of Montreal using Yelp Check-ins, folks pushed the boundaries of creativity to build things that were technically hardcore, but also uniquely local. Citizens of Montreal using technology and data to help build a better Montreal — that was really awesome to see!”

Alison U., who came to Montreal from Yelp’s Engineering and University Outreach Office in San Francisco, left impressed by the smarts and dedication of the teams:

“The Montreal tech scene is buzzing! During Yackathon 2.0, I was highly impressed by the uniqueness and creativity of the projects, and the passion these hackers maintained throughout the three-day event. From morning ‘til late evening, participants were collaborating, brainstorming, and coding. They were troupers for devoting an entire weekend to their projects, and I could definitely see strong bonds of camaraderie form as the days progressed.”

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Yelp in Montreal is really excited and proud to be a part of such a vibrant local tech scene, especially in the way this scene connects local businesses, local startups, local government and local universities and colleges, with an overall dedication to open data and healthy communities. We were so inspired by the Yackathon participants this year, and we can’t wait to follow their future projects, high five them at future Yelp events around town, and hopefully see their smiles out in full force again at the next Yackathon!

Check out a series of profiles on our judges here and all the final projects here. Stay tuned for part two of our Yackathon post-event wrap-up where we interview the winner of our inaugural Yackathon Most Valuable Player Award, who gives some insight into how a non-engineer can contribute their own skills to a hackathon, and part three where the Yelp engineers who came to Montreal for the Yackathon give a little more technical insight into the awesome things that got made.

Until then friends, SYOY!