Melnick was joined by three other members of his team participating in Tampa's first Hack-A-Thon, a contest to pitch, program and present a functioning Internet application in 48 hours.
Although there were approximately 75 people involved in the event this weekend, there were only about 20 or so working at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning, as others were still asleep or just hadn't made it back inside the hotel's City Center Cafe and Patio, where plenty of coffee was brewing and Red Bull accessible. Meals were catered by downtown eateries Fresh and Bamboozle.
Such marathon coding competitions have busted out big in the past couple of years, for which companies — or in this case, the city of Tampa — provide crime statistics, real-time parking data, and other sources of information never before given out so that programmers can create new applications. For this hackathon, HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority) also provided statistics, which allowed Melnick and his team to come up with a plan — with a hard deadline of 6 p.m. Sunday night, exactly 48 hours after it commenced.
Melnick, who works as a digital strategist at Spark Advertising in Tampa, said the idea of using a text messaging system instead of a smart phone app is that many HART riders do not have smartphones.
"It's just an easier way of doing things. And we're not spending resources. We're not telling HART you have to put GPS on your buses. This is a very simple way of doing that."
Ubiquitous entrepreneur Reuben Pressman came to the hackathon solo, but quickly teamed up with a large group working on a game that would make Tampa residents more environmentally friendly.
Their plan was to take people's utility bills — gas, water, garbage, electricity. Mix that with the number of occupants, square footage and socio-economic status of a home to come up with a "green score" measuring how energy-efficient that household was. Those homes could then compete against neighbors or friends to become more green, with the ultimate goal (other than the satisfaction that you're conserving energy) of getting discounts at retailers like HomeDepot.
Some of the hackathoners never left the first floor room working room on Friday night, such as 24-year-old St. Pete Beach college student Matthew Albright, working with three staffers on a company called Imaginary Mind.
Initially the team was going to work on an app that could tell motorists in Tampa the nearest parking spaces or parking garages. But they ditched that to work on a web app through which one could add or donate financial grants.
One of Albright's teammates, Roy Stegman, said he had previously participated in a hackathon in Miami that had more people than this weekend's affair, but he liked it this way.
Not being from Tampa, Aidan Augustin said they were culling local web sites and calling friends for basic information to fill their initial lists.
The winner will be selected by a seven-judge panel that will have three days to review the proposals. First place is a cool $1,000, and a prominent placement on the city's recently redesigned website.