New web application by students of the School of Information wins grand prize in hackathon

HearstMuseum_ArielHayat
Ariel Hayat/Staff

A team of 11 first-year School of Information graduate students received the grand prize in this weekend’s “HackTheHearst” competition for their new web application, Yapi Kapi, an online catalog of hundreds of thousands of artifacts held at UC Berkeley’s Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

The application features more than 700,000 California Indian artifacts, including basic tools, weapons and baskets, and is geared toward a fourth-grade audience. Arranged by region, the application presents users with an interactive map and prompts them to select the land area of interest. The application then scans and identifies the artifacts that have been located in that region and organizes them by tribe. Users are free to browse and add artifacts to their online collection.

Team member Brian Carlo said classifying the artifacts was a rewarding challenge.

“We wanted students to be able to compare the native artifacts to things that might resonate with them in their own lives,” Carlo said. “It’s an exciting moment to see all the work we have done finally come to fruition.”

The team, comprising students from several educational backgrounds, competed against other graduate students and professionals in what is called a hackathon, a competition typically among computer scientists, graphic designers and others to create a new software program.

Michael Black, head of research information systems with the Hearst Museum, said because the Hearst Museum has been under renovation for the past two years, its resources and means of educational service have been virtually nonexistent. But Black considers the results of the hackathon to be a very positive development for the museum.

“(The app) gives the museum an online presence to the public in ways that are meaningful,” Black said

Though previous hackathons on campus have typically ended after two days, this event, hosted by the Hearst Museum, lasted 10 days. Team member Carlos Lasa said this was highly advantageous to the application’s outcome.

“The product of the shorter hackathons are very raw,” Lasa said. “Even if the ideas are good, the execution with only one night to work with never turns out that well.”

Despite the fact that this was most team members’ first hackathon experience, Yapi Kapi managed to claim two titles: best overall application and the Heritage Award, a title granted to the application that best presents Native American cultural heritage.

In addition to T-shirts and other items, the team will also receive a behind-the-scenes tour of the Hearst Museum’s ancient Egyptian collections, among other prizes.

As the museum updates information about its artifacts, so too will the team update the application. In the meantime, the team will work out some of the kinks that arose during the application’s creation.

Adrianna Dinolfo covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @Adriannadinolfo.