I’m a big fan of Culture Hack Days - I attended my first one in London last year and it’s definitely up there as one of the most “stuff happened as a direct result” events. I read a blog post just before going, on “what I miss about hack days”, and if you’re looking for an event that’s not really about winning or impressing the judges so you get investment, but more about problem solving, creative collaboration and playfulness, this series of hacks is the one to go for.
I was impressed that of the fifty or so hackers, fifteen of them were designers, and at the Friday night and Saturday evening events there was an impressive mix of people around - good gender balance, loads of people from cultural organisations there to learn and contribute, and a wide range of skill levels - people straight out of uni, and some pretty serious game designer folk.
My idea was to do lots of little hacks rather than one big one - sadly I only managed three that reached “deployed” state - I had a bunch of other small ideas I’d wanted to have a go at.
The basic principle was “do the simplest hack possible that communicates the idea, then move on to the next”. Interestingly, because it was such a party atmosphere (coding until 4am with electro as the sound-track was great fun) a lot of the time I spent chatting to people and bouncing ideas around as much as I did coding.
I worked on three hacks with two friends - CJ was over from Dublin and we’ve done a couple of live-coding events with Boz Temple-Morris - one for Accenture, the other was Change Nation; and Katy from Caper who I worked with on Mapping the Museum for Brighton and Hove Museums. I helped out on a couple of other things, and some stuff that didn’t see the light of day, but really loosely so I’ll just put these three up here.
On the train up I was looking at the pre-release datasets, and I liked the look of the user-contributed stories that Scottish Book Trust had collated as part of their My Favourite Place project. Essentially - a collection of poems and short stories that people have written about places in Scotland that mean something to them.
Storyland takes these stories, and oh my gosh puts them on a map. But with a few twists. Mainly I wanted something that would work very well on mobile and tablet devices, and that made for a good experience reading the text of the contributions.
So it was all about find a good, typographically sound way to display poetry and prose on a screen in multiple device sizes.
And on top of that, I didn’t want to use the usual Google Maps way of putting stuff on a map, so I used leaflet.js and a lovely map tileset that Stamen have produced that generates tiles that looks like a watercolour painting.
We reached “hack done” point on this first hack in about four hours from 8pm to 12pm on the first day, and moved on to…
Funding for artists is a thorny issue at the moment - lots of folk are feeling the pinch, and there’s a general feeling that artists are less able to experiment at the moment because they’re having to do two or more jobs at once rather than being able to focus on their practice.
After lots of discussion with a variety of people at the event, and a little before-hand CJ came up with the idea of “crowd-funded bursaries”. I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but the idea is that we would build something to enable arts lovers to collectively support venues that wanted to host an artist over a period of time in order to help them generate new work, experiment and play.
Kitty is the result - it’s totally demo-ware, but oddly has the most complicated back-end to it out of the three hacks, and took the most time. I think there’s something in this - it takes some of the Kickstarter-type ideas and applies them in an interesting way.
In the final two hours of the hack we made a very quick reinterpretation of the 15,000-image Demarco Archive called Through the Lens of Demarco.
I’ve written up a fairly long explanation of this hack but essesentially it’s a navigable, linkable version of a wonderful and unique photography archive spanning the the last forty years of the Edinburgh Festival from the viewpoint of Richard Demarco.
So - a wonderful event, and I had a great time. Big thanks to the team at Sync for pulling off one of the best hacks I’ve been to - I predict interesting things for the cultural sector in Scotland if they keep this up.
I had a great time - hoping to repeat it again next year…