roll out the barrel

A representation of the ChicagoHacksBig team after our win. Front row is CRTLabs team – Joe Sullivan, Chad Curry, Dave Conroy and Chris Cot√©. ūüėČ Photo found on New Old Stock and Courtesy of:

Part of our work here at CRTLabs is to build for the future. As we do that, we need to learn, grow and fail. We had the opportunity to do all three as part of a hackathon team. We participated with people from many different groups around the Chicago area and one from NYC. Our team was called ChicagoHacksBig and we were entered into the Koding Virtual Global Hackathon sponsored by IBM, among others, and happening on Feb. 20 & 21. The prizes were $100,000 for 1st, $30,000 for 2nd and $10,000 for 3rd.

NOTE: If you’re just interested in seeing the work we did, you can use the following links:

  • The ChicagoHacksBig team page is here.
  • If you just want to play with the visualizations, you can go here.
  • If you want to access our code on GitHub, head here.

When it Began

We were invited to participate by Chris Phenner, someone we know in the Chicago tech community and who works for Gimbal Beacons. He’d submitted a proposal for the hackathon back in December and asked if we’d like to join. He’d also decided that we would be giving our winnings to a good cause called SmartChicago Collaborative, supporting technology exposure to underserved areas in Chicago. Because Chris’ idea¬†was to do some type of representation of a map of indoor space, we thought this would be cool application for commercial or residential space. We were excited for the chance to win for a charity in Chicago, work with people in the tech community here¬†and grateful for the experience. This was also a great chance for us to explore how this could work for real estate in the future.

Race for the Prize

Initially, our designs were on indoor mapping and we thought this would be a cool way to see how beaconing would could be used to describe how people relate to a space. The implications for real estate are big. This could mean understanding foot traffic in malls or built spaces and being able to advise the retailers on the opportunities beacons provide. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out because we weren’t able to get¬†enough people in the space to install an app for the beacons to access.

So, we had to pivot. We had to pivot 3 days before the hackathon was to start!! We were fortunate to work with the folks at DoStuff Media, whose app would provide the data for us to visualize. DoStuff used Gimbal’s beacons and geofencing of 4,500 venues around the US to provide anonymized data about how people who had their app moved about 16 different cities over the course of one evening. Over 10,000 people were moving around these cities and this data lead to how we were able to show what spots were popular over the course of an evening.

Four cities mapped at the same time.

Figure 1 РPutting four of the cities we mapped next to each other.

We started work Saturday AM. Chris dug into the data and we all discussed how we might want to show this. We landed on heat mapping and some stream graphs. Dave prepped the servers for the Koding site, as we needed to use their IDE for the hackathon. Joe worked on the user experience and layout for the site. I started working on HTML/CSS for the initial page and navigation we didn’t end up using. We thought it would be cool to visualize the data using maps. So, Chris cooked¬†up some cool heat maps using Leaflet and heatmap.js. These are pretty lightweight frameworks that could have some great implications for real estate. One of our visualizations was created using quadrants, showing four different cities compared side by side. Chris started out comparing Austin (where DoStuff is located and has the most data), Portland, LA and Chicago (where we’re based). He then took this template and created a few more in this style. Then we decided to let the maps stand on their own. What’s cool about this is you can dive into each map a little deeper.

Chicago Map.

Figure 2 – Chicago Map. What’s interesting about this one is how Milwaukee Avenue lights up over the course of the evening.

We created streamgraphs and I think the results were great. The end result is that not only did the ChicagoHacksBig team create some great data visualizations, we also won $30,000 for SmartChicago Collaborative.

Wrap-Up and Final Thoughts

It was a great experience all around and we want to thank Chris Phenner for asking us to be a part of it and DoStuff for access to their data, as it was nice exposure to a dataset on a large scale.


Figure 3 – A streamgraph showing how long people spent at certain venues. What’s cool about this is the various ways you can visualize the data. Love it.

For us, the visualizations could be used in future project for our members. This is a great template for things like creating apps that give you a sense of foot traffic and pedestrian congregation on a larger scale. Or apps that give you a sense of overall air quality for a city. Or apps that show how traffic moves through a city. It changes the tenor and discussion about a neighborhood.

My thanks to Chris, Dave and Joe for their hard work in the name of CRTLabs, NAR and our members. l can tell you I’m extremely proud of this team for how they worked together for this and worked with the others in ChicagoHacksBig.¬†Kudos to you.