Fact Sheet

What is Random Hacks of Kindness?

RHoK is an initiative that brings together disaster subject matter experts and software engineers to work on identifying key challenges to and developing technological solutions to these critical issues. 

What is a Hackathon?

The word “Hackathon” brings together the word “hack” (a clever solution to a technical problem) and “marathon” – to describe an event where programmers get together over a period of time and work on creating technological solutions to a defined set of challenges. 

What is a Codejam?

The word ‘Codejam’ is very similar to a Hackathon however a Code Jam is a coding competition developers are asked to solve challenges in a limited amount of time. Typically codejams have a panel of reviewers at the end of the competition and the winners receive a prize.

What is a Barcamp?

Barcamp is a user generated conference (or unconference) which are open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants. 

Why is it called ‘Random Hacks of Kindness’?

This Hackathon intends to bring the best and brightest programmers and coders together in a barcamp-like environment, or a "give camp," to solve real world-problems related to disaster relief.

How did RHoK come about? 

In May 2009, the first ever Crisis Camp barcamp was held in Washington, DC at the World Bank. During one of the opening sessions an industry panel including representatives from Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! agreed that some matters supersede competitive concerns. As a result Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! agreed to cooperate in order to mobilize developer communities to create interoperable solutions/code that will have real impact in the field.  It took the World Bank to make this partnership happen and it quickly grew to include NASA.

Is this a one off event?

No, this Codejam in San Francisco is the first of a series of Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) events. The aim is to build a global community of developers and subject matter experts to work on development and reconstruction issues. This first RHoK will focus on disaster relief issues, and following RHoKs will focus on disaster risk management issues at large. The next RHoK event will be held on the East coast.

What are the objectives of RHoK?
This event is the first step in building a global community dedicated to solving development and reconstruction challenges through technology. The idea is to bring the development community and the technological community together. 

At the RHoK Codejam, programmers will partner with subject matter experts to tackle “real world "problems. These challenges have been outlined prior to the event and will continue to be refined during the event.

The software created at this first event will continue to be developed at subsequent RHoK events, and openly shared with the international community. Our intention is that software will address some of the serious challenges facing the development and reconstruction community, and evolve in response to their needs.

Was there prior preparation for this event?

One of the outcomes of Crisis Camp DC was a preliminary list of potential project definitions that could be developed by programmers. A workshop was also held at the World Bank on the 14th of October, where a number of subject matter experts, from a range of organizations involved in disaster risk management came together to brainstorm further project definitions as well as prioritize key themes the programmers will work on at RHoK. Examples of project definitions include: 

1.    Reverse 911 / “Crisis craigslist” application: Need to identify additional resources at a time of crisis. Database built that allows people to volunteer, contribute (blankets; blood type; $ etc). Create a mobile app users can opt in through cell phone – the govt. could carry all cell users- determine what is available. Reverse 911- call on individuals for help.
2.    Live update Triage map: Picture of what is happening, updated live in context of the crisis; collaborative filtering issues- only care about certain things- need networks of trust. Filter system established beforehand. Determine hotspots. Maps of critical areas and infrastructure- keep tally of hospital beds and supplies.
3.    The money tracker/ where did my money go: Smart way to make donations and track those donations - You can track where donations are going- like you track your mail. In this way you can leverage transparency – and it becomes a social change tool. As text messages are sent when supplies are arriving at shelters- connect it to ensure money arrives at right place- as well as meeting the right needs (i.e. we need cash not cans). Organizations can state we are winning- donors know where to donate $$ (One laptop per child initiative).
4.    People-finder mobile-device upload, confirmation, comment, and inquiry: Create systems to submit found or missing people reports; create system to query the found/missing people database; create system to communicate lookers to other lookers for the same person(s) and lookers to found missing persons
5.    Credibility of the human sensor: Programmatically determine trustworthiness of crowdsourced data points/sources. ie. Build an algorithm to track accuracy of entries by a user (ebay model), Track twitter hash tags, use community moderation, or use # of crowd-contributed confirming data points.
6.    Automatic Satellite data - orthorectification for rapid dissemination: Lack of exact geo-location info in satellite data limits the utility of rapid response delivery - there is a need for automatic satellite data for rapid dissemination. So you can tie satellite imagery to ground truth “human sensor” report for layering/mashups.
7.    CERTS: Organizing the social network before the event using community responder teams- community registers and volunteers info; trusted users; social network developed before the event. Using already existing organizations. Local assessment after disaster- using web 2.0- walking maps, sms, feed info fast.

Who are the Organizers? 

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, SecondMuse, NASA and the World Bank are founding partners.

Why is Google involved?

The whole thing started last spring at the first-ever Crisis Camp in Washington DC where we heard about the challenges that NGOs, governments, and first responders face during disaster response.

We discussed these challenges with colleagues from Microsoft, and Yahoo. We all agreed that we could provide technological development. But, even for large companies, resources are finite. So, the question became, “How do we make this happen 

We decided to reach out to our active development communities. Out of this effort, Random Hacks of Kindness, a hackathon for humanity, was born. Random Hacks of Kindness, jointly sponsored by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA, and the World Bank, aims to build an active developer community around disaster response and humanitarian relief.

This weekend, benevolently-inclined hackers will listen to a keynote from FEMA Administrator 
Craig Fugate. Then they’ll churn out some of the most important open source code on the planet—code that saves lives and mitigates human suffering. They'll address problems like, how do we crowdsource information from local citizens to aid first resonders? How do we quickly collect and publish fresh aerial imagery of an affected area? How do we create a comprehensive missing persons finder after a disaster?

Their work will have a positive, lasting impact on the state of the human experience, not just here in the U.S, but all around the globe.

While it’s no exaggeration to call these coders modern-day superheroes, they’ll be going home with just a T-shirt for their efforts. It's a nice T-shirt, but perhaps masks and capes would have been more appropriate.

Why is Microsoft involved?

Global sustainable development efforts require a multifaceted approach that leverages the skills, resources, and commitments of corporations, government agencies, international government organizations, non-governmental organizations, and individuals. At Microsoft, we are passionate in our belief that information technology can make a significant difference, not only in people's daily lives, but also in mitigating the impact of natural disasters.

Microsoft is thrilled to be a founding partner of the Random Hacks of Kindness. In addition to our corporate disaster response efforts, we believe that our developer community and partners can make a real difference in developing and contributing technological solutions that address the needs of those affected by disasters. This partnership reinforces our commitment to find innovative ways to lend Microsoft expertise and technology to help make communities more resilient in the face of natural and man-made catastrophes and to strengthen disaster management capabilities worldwide.

Why is Yahoo! involved?

At Yahoo!, we’re committed to sharing our knowledge, resources, technical expertise and good fortune with our community and the world. It’s our strong belief that we truly can make a positive change and hope that our passion for making for a difference will inspire our audience of 600 million people around the world.  Through our Yahoo! for Good initiative, we support a large number of non-profit efforts that span across raising awareness, offering much-needed funding, providing disaster relief, and much more.

Yahoo! has the history and expertise in developing user-friendly Web applications.  We are thrilled to be a part of the RHoK effort, and extend our technical knowledge and expertise to help mitigate disaster and crisis challenges.   By collaborating with industry leaders and disaster relief experts, and creating a developer community committed to tackling critical disaster relief issues, we will make an impact in improving disaster response and assessment. 

This effort builds upon our disaster relief efforts to empower employees to take up to three months off of their typical day jobs, and apply their skills to projects that deliver a positive impact on the world.  For example, we are building a one-stop destination where people around the world can find needed information in a time of disaster. We’re creating a system to help reunite and communicate with family and friends, and a platform to help victims find shelters.

Over the years we have provided disaster relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, Tsunami Relief, and 9/11.    http://forgood.yahoo.com/good_causes/campaigns_for_good/disaster_relief.html .

Why is SecondMuse involved?

SecondMuse is a communications agency and think tank that inspires creativity and innovation.  Our work ranges through all areas of marketing, PR and internal communication practices with a strong emphasis on the appropriate use of digital communication.  Central to our process is a continual use of the science of collaboration to ensure the success of any collective endeavor.

SecondMuse has pioneered the use of facilitated collaboration practices, supported by social media technology.  One of the essential elements of SecondMuse's open collaboration strategy is to continuously connect individuals and organizations in meaningful relationships that contribute to the well-being of humanity.  We believe that breakthrough creativity and innovation is a natural outcome of true collaboration.  

Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), at its heart, embodies what SecondMuse is all about.  Great organizations coming together to collectively contribute to the well-being of humanity.

Why is NASA involved?

Since its inception, NASA has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to tackle massively complex and ambitious goals to forward the human endeavor.  As a result of its decades long development of technology in robotics, intelligent systems, satellites, human spaceflight and data analysis, visualization and modeling, NASA has a powerful and intelligent network of scientists and engineers. 

NASA has 14 spacecraft currently orbiting the Earth monitoring the dynamic Earth environment.  With approximately 4TB of new Earth Science data available each day, NASA’s scientists and engineers are at the forefront of understanding our global system.  This data, together with 40 years of archived data, is a global resource for the development and reconstruction community.

NASA is constantly collaborating with partners, from governments and universities to corporations and individuals.  NASA supports RHoK to create a developer community to enhance and enable development and reconstruction efforts to share information, have access to timely data, and to collaborate publicly to solve some of the toughest social and environmental challenges today.  NASA’s support comes from the Innovative Partnership Program (IPP) at NASA Headquarters and NASA Ames Research Center.

Why is the World Bank involved?

The World Bank is constantly looking for innovative ways to tackle sustainable development issues. The inaugural Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) event in San Francisco provides an opportunity to mobilize the technological community to tackle key disaster relief issues through software development.

The World Bank supports RHoK as it sees this event as the first step in connecting grass-roots movements and building a community of global experts and programmers dedicated to disaster risk management issues. By partnering with software development leaders from the private sector, public goods will be generated.

RHoK events provide an inspiring space for programmers to work with subject matter experts towards a common goal that will save lives and enhance sustainable development efforts around the globe. 

For further information please see the press release, as well as our blog:


What is the long term goal of RHoK?

A strategic vision document of the RHoK partners is being developed at this event. The goal is to create a community of practioners and technological experts working on development and reconstruction areas.  The first event will focus on disaster relief issues in to support the reduction of risk globally and enhance disaster relief efforts.