April 15, 2011

To Spread Its Message, a Charity Invites Hackers to Use Its Data

DonorsChoose is inviting programmers and analysts to steal its data.

The charity Web site, which helps teachers publicize classroom projects for which they need financial support, this week opened its database to Web developers and data analysts, challenging them to build useful tools with its information as part of a contest that it hopes will bring new attention to its work.

The contest, called Hacking Education: A Contest for Developers and Data Crunchers, will award winners for best information graphic, best application built in each of five programming languages, and in one wild-card category. One grand-prize winner will also appear on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report.

The contest is the first idea put into practice from a recent "social hackathon," a Microsoft-sponsored event that brought together 30 online media experts who worked on ideas to help the charity make better use of technology and social media.

One suggestion that came from that event was to create compelling reasons for developers to create new tools that use DonorsChoose data, which includes information on more than 300,000 classroom projects and more than 1 million anonymous donations.

While some of the information had been available to developers since 2007, it was mostly used by companies that had relationships with DonorsChoose.

"When we first built it, we thought there would be a lot of developers show up and build things for us, and that really didn’t happen," said Oliver Hurst-Hiller, DonorsChoose chief technology officer.

This contest was designed to get more people to use its data.

"We hope for the data crunchers out there that it's a really rich and meaty data set," Mr. Hurst-Hiller said.

The contest deadline is June 30. Details are available on