Posted on Sunday, 02.02.14
Hackathon goers create apps for getting the information out — in Cuba
BY NANCY DAHLBERG
Problems with censorship, extremely costly service and the lowest
cellphone and Internet penetration rates in the Western Hemisphere
cripple communication in Cuba. Do we think there is an app for that?
At South Florida’s first Hackathon for Cuba on Saturday, there were
plenty of ideas for tech solutions to help Cubans disseminate
information under the harshest of conditions — and three winners.
Inspired by Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez’s call to action and fueled by
caffeine and carbs, about 50 computer programmers formed teams and spent
the day building solutions and then presented them to judges at The LAB
Miami, a coworking campus in Wynwood. The event was produced by the
nonprofit Roots of Hope, a network of college students and young
professionals that help empower Cuban youth through technology and
entrepreneurial support. Three $1,000 cash prizes provided by Roots of
Hope, Pop.co, The LAB Miami and MIA Collective were awarded.
Two of the three winning teams based their solutions on using email to
disseminate the information, which obviously seems quite primitive for
this group. “You have to challenge yourself to think outside the box,”
explained Raul Moas, Roots of Hope’s executive director. “We’re taking a
step back in time to move forward.”
For hackathon participants Daniel Arzuaga, Felix Diaz and Salvador
Pascual, using email just made sense, as 70 percent of Cubans have
access to email but just 3 percent have access to the Internet.
“Our app creates the Internet without the Internet,” said Arzuaga, who
moved here from Cuba 14 years ago. He explained that a person could
access marketplace information, such as who is selling iPhones, or a
condensed version of a Wikipedia entry, for instance. They plan to
continue developing the applications.
Developers Jose Pimienta and Osniel Gonzalez also won for an email
application. Called Cuba Direct, their application helps Cubans browse
the web through email, allowing ways to search Google, Wikipedia or
recent Twitter updates, for instance. Will they continue developing it?
With a good start on the development on Saturday, “we are going to put
it on a server and let our [developer] friends in Cuba play with it,”
said Pimienta, who moved here from Cuba and 2009. Gonzalez arrived in 2012.
The third winner, Ronny Rodriguez, envisions a $50-$75 kit that would
include a mini computer called Raspberry Pi that can store information
and essentially create a web access point for sharing the information
with others. “I want to share something with the Cuban people because I
know how difficult it is. I was there,” said Rodriguez, who moved from
Cuba about five years ago.
Nine other projects competed, including one for sending Cuban blogs from
the inside to the outside world. Other ones addressed maximizing the
benefits of expensive Internet cafe sessions or essentially creating the
cafe at home. The overall goal of the hackathon was to bring together
people who are passionate about helping Cuba with those who live and
breathe technology to devise solutions and continue working on them,
said Natalia Martinez, chief technology officer for Roots of Hope. A
hackathon ground rule: The solutions being developed could not violate
U.S. or Cuban laws.
The hackathon, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, kicked off Friday
night with an opening party attended by more than 100 people. It
included a few remarks from Sanchez, via video because she had to leave
unexpectedly Friday morning. Sanchez said Cubans desperately need
innovative apps to disseminate information. She also said she hopes to
soon see the next hackathon — not in Miami but in Cuba.
Typically one- or two-day contests where programmers form teams to build
apps and compete for prizes, hackathons are fairly common in South
Florida now and are also becoming more specialized. In recent months,
events have addressed immigration reform and education. And it’s
hackathon high season in South Florida. The PayPal BattleHack is
returning to The LAB Miami Feb. 22-23. One winner will be selected to
compete in the global finals for a $100,000 prize. Then on March 22-23,
again at The LAB, there will be a Music Hack Day to kick off the MIA
Music Summit. And in May, eMerge Americas is planning a hackathon.
Roots of Hope wants to hold Hackathon for Cuba events in San Francisco
and New York later in the year.
Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg
Source: Hackathon goers create apps for getting the information out — in
Cuba – Miami-Dade – MiamiHerald.com –