I’ve been putting most of my blogging efforts of late into Sketching with Code. I’ve spent the year thinking about hacking, and what cultural organisations can learn from hacker culture. It’s been interesting!
I’ve been putting most of my blogging efforts of late into Sketching with Code. I’ve spent the year thinking about hacking, and what cultural organisations can learn from hacker culture. It’s been interesting!
I’ve been looking for a simple, low maintenance way of running the accounting for my small company that I’ve set up, and I thought I’d share what I’ve learned and the apps that I’m using to make my life as easy as possible while I focus on doing work that brings in money.
I’ve done this before a few times, and it feels like for the first time I’m actually using sensible software that’s been designed for the 21st century.
(I’m not selling anything, and I’m not involved in these companies other than as a customer. I’m also not giving this as advice to everyone, I’m not qualified to advise you on financial matters, but you may find this useful).
I wanted to do everything online when I set up More Monsters, so first step was to incorporate. For a very small fee when compared to what a solicitor would charge, Companies Made Simple handled setting up the actual legal entity I needed to start trading. I’ve found that in my experience, whilst there can be a bit of extra hassle involved with being limited, separating your business activities from your personal in the form of a limited liability entity brings with it a certain degree of security and flexibility.
I chose the silver package which gave me a registration with Companies House, and digital versions of the various legal documents required by law.
I also got a London registered office, and they would collect and forward any post until I got my accountant set up.
Depending on your needs, it’s a good idea to shop around for banking. I’ve been with Lloyds, Barclays, Cooperative and HSBC in the past for my previous companies. Coop whilst having the most ethical stance had poor customer service and wouldn’t offer a loan when I needed it, and both Lloyds and HSBC have given me hassle. Santander from my wife’s experience was a no because thy don’t seem to actually be a real business bank - it’s apparently off-shore or something, so it’s hard to speak to someone face to face in-branch (at least that was the case a couple of years ago).
I went for Barclays. They were quick-ish to get set up, but it took four months to actually get online banking working properly because of a glitch (I already had access through another company so they got confused).
I’m really glad I picked Barclays because they have some really killer features:
On signing with Barclays they gave me an immediate £2k credit card at zero percent for a fixed term. This was helpful just to get started quicker, buying equipment and other things I needed.
I wanted to automate as much of my book-keeping as possible, having been bitten by the awful incumbent software that is Sage, and the money that you have to throw at book-keeping (essentially data entry, copy and paste, and putting things in categories, sorry bookkeepers of the world!)
You can (once you have phone banking set up) turn on Data Services for each of your accounts. Imagine a secure RSS feed of all of your transactions that you could take and plug into other accounting software - that’s close to what this is. You apply for it and then there is a secure way to get your banking data in more or less real time into other tools you are using.
No more of that process of typing in our bank statements from printed sheets of paper, or downloading them by hand and loading them into your software - it all happens automatically. Awesome. Days and stress saved.
With the Barclays deal you can pay £17 per month and get FreeAgent bundled with a set of other tools (MozyPro for backups, which seems excellent, if a bit heavy on the laptop processing power sometimes, and a number of other “useful in the future” products - legal, training, and so on).
FreeAgent is a very easy to use web-based accounting package that you can buy monthly as a standalone app.
On sign up with Barclays my account was already added (I had to add the savings account in by hand). I phoned up for my Data Services access and it took 48 hours to connect the two based on that call.
I logged back in, hit “refresh” and all of my transactions appeared, automatically entered into the system.
The process is then to “explain” each of the transactions by applying one of a set of pre-defined categories to each transaction. It’s clever and will automatically guess categories based on prior transactions. It also, crucially will work out your VAT against each based on the category.
It’s very full-featured, let’s you send invoices, view overdue items (hi guys, if you’re reading this!), generate profit and loss statements, works out a calendar of when your tax will be due, how much, and so on.
Rather brilliantly you can add multiple logins for people you work with with different access settings, so you can just give your accountant a login and they can get an export of what they need to generate your annual return, and report tax correctly.
Tons of features and I know from experience, if you make keeping track of your finances easy, timely and accurate you reduce the risk of incurring costs and problems.
Keeping all of those printed receipts, filtering them, sorting them into months, getting someone to type them all into something - all pretty inefficient, boring and expensive.
mobileAgent is a third party mobile app that lets you record expenses, mileage and perform other tasks when using the main FreeAgent app would be inconvenient. Crucially it works when there is no mobile signal, and lets you take photos of your receipts, which get uploaded into your FreeAgent account (and/or Dropbox) with an explanation.
So, that’s the wallet-full-of-receipts-with-handwritten-notes-on-them problem solved too!
So, that’s all the retrospective stuff sorted. But you need to be able to plan your cashflow (at least as well as you can).
Float is a very new startup that does all of the forecasting features you wish that FreeAgent had built in (future acquisition?!). Again, it’s a pay-monthly app and it has a very helpful “pipeline” overview, a way to set up future projects, plan them in to your cashflow, as well as set rolling monthly budgets for expenditure.
The budgets are based on the actual data in your FreeAgent account, and because that comes directly from my Barclays account, this is as close to a live cashflow dashboard as I’ve experienced. Transactions occur in my bank, that gets reported the next day to FreeAgent, Float pulls the data from FreeAgent and my cashflow forecast updates in realtime.
Unless you’ve sat there in Excel trying to do this by hand you can’t really appreciate how much time this saves. And time spent actually doing work, rather than messing around with manual spreadsheet work is well spent.
I see a bright future for this little startup.
To make all this work, you need an accountant who’s equally set up for working with tiny companies (it’s just me on the payroll, and I collaborate with others on larger projects but don’t have permanent staff).
I found Ben by recommendation from Sidekick, and for less than £100/month he sorts out tax, dealing with the various things that you have to do as a company, and provides a bunch of useful services.
I’ve added Ben as a user on FreeAgent, so when it comes to the annual return, VAT, tax and so on, it’s just a case of him logging in and pulling down what he needs to verify everything.
Some other irritations that I’ve experienced in the past include dealing with late payments, lost invoices and having to physically pay cheques in at a bank. I often thought that it would be sensible if every invoice included a web address at which the recipient could easily pay the invoice there and then. No excuses. No “cheque’s in the post”.
GoCardless are a new London-based payment system that lets people pay for things via the web, just using a bank account and sort code. No credit card. It’s quite clever, and from a user’s point of view it’s surprisingly fast. It uses DirectDebit, and for paying invoices it’s just a one-time payment, and then the Direct Debit ends. Crucially, you don’t have to go through all the usual pain of setting up a merchant account. You can use it for other things too - recurring monthly payments, but that requires some other software (For instance, Chircle that I made does charitable monthly donations using it).
FreeAgent have just added GoCardless as an option, so every email that goes out with an invoice contains a “pay online” link. There’s a 1% fee (I think) so it’s not for everyone, but I’m happy to lose that for the sake of cashflow and having money in my account rather than in my clients’.
Your setup will no doubt be different, and there are plenty of alternatives for each of these products. I just thought I’d share how I’ve got things set up for More Monsters.
Anything I’m missing?
One of my first projects for my residency on the Scottish island of Eigg is now up online.
Skit is a really simple website builder that lets you make and host a website just using your Dropbox account.
Whenever I start a new web hack I often find that for the first half hour whilst I’m reusing components from previous hacks there’s a lot of stuff I have to do every time just to get going.
Clone it to start a new project, follow the Readme instructions and you (and I) will be up and running with all the usual stuff already done so focus can go on the bits that actually matter.
I’ve been awarded some research money from Nesta and the Clore Leadership Programme. I’m going to be looking into hacker culture and cultural hacks. Are hackdays a useful way of making innovative projects happen? What happens after the hack? Are there other points where technologists and artists meet and what can we learn from them?
Along the way I’ll be publishing things on my new site Sketching With Code - I wanted it to be a separate thing from this site.
If you have any thoughts, get in touch…
Richard Demarco is one of the long-standing figures involved in the Edinburgh Festival, and over the years used his camera to document the event and the people involved. He had unique access to a wide variety of interesting people, and managed to build a body of work of tens of thousands of photographs.
In 2008, fifteen thousand of those images were meticulously scanned, added to a database with associated metadata and then put online.
Looking through the images ahead of Culture Hack it was clear that there is some beautiful stuff in this archive. And the folks in charge of the archive were releasing it for us culture hackers to play with during our 24-hour hack.
If you have a read of the launch press release for the project it was all about enabling the public to get unique access to the archive.
Trouble is, when I went to the Demarco Archive website I was disappointed because all I found was a Flash site with some text. No images!
It was only on my third visit to the site that I noticed a tiny little button (ad blindness maybe?) that when clicked on the home page does nothing, but if you navigate about a bit, and then click it, leads to a pretty complicated set of screens with lists of artists (most I’d not heard of) in tiny text, and little thumbnails of images and so on.
So the content was there, it was just locked away behind a Flash site. No URLs to individual items, no way of bookmarking or copying and pasting stuff. It felt like they’d forgotten about the main purpose of their project - let people see the images.
It was late in the hack, we had a few hours left, and I’d been saying that if there was enough time I’d like to take all of the images, import them into a database and then write a script that would load them into a Facebook page as a timeline stretching back to the sixties. I think two teams had the same idea here - I saw some conversation on twitter about it.
That proved impossible because of licencing, but I was sufficiently motivated by this (“It’s a man’s life’s work!”) that I thought I would see what could be done in the dying hours of the hack day.
I teamed up with Katy Beale, who I’ve worked with via Caper, and while she was going through the archive manually and seeing what she could find to pull out as a “story”, I started coding.
First, I had a look at what the site would give me. Using “Inspect element” in Chrome, and turning on “Network” I found that I was able to see the requests that the flash movie was making to the back-end server (is this new? I’m not sure it used to do that). I’m not kidding, the entire thing is based on reasonably-well-structure XML data. So the content was there, it’s just they’d stuffed it behind an inaccessible SWF.
So I thought I’d poke it a bit, and wrote a little script that would increment from 00001 to 15000 and fire a bunch of ‘wget’ calls at the server to see if I could scrape all that XML down in some way. Turns out that after 100 requests, Apache Tomcat kicks in and stops that.
Next I tried the JSON API that I discovered that Sync were providing, but that didn’t have any of the images in it, and would have required me downloading a multi-gig file, sorting and making sense of the files and uploading back to S3. So that was out because of time constraints.
But then, I noticed that the CSV files provided did have filename fields. Hacking a few URLs that I found via Chrome’s inspect element feature, I found that I could construct a URL for an image hosted on the main site using values from the CSV file. Bingo.
So we were go. I knocked up my usual Ruby / MongoDB / Twitter Bootstrap / Padrino / JQuery setup as a new app and set about creating a little app that pulled in the CSV file as mongo documents. Surprisingly quickly (after a little bit of UTF8 conversion using iconv) I had a little app that showed some images on a screen.
Meanwhile Katy had found loads of great stuff in the archive and had been cross-referencing with Wikipedia to make sense of it. She was busy writing text for the home page and artists pages, and I set about making some kind of navigable way for viewing the archive.
I wanted a lovely experience for the app - it had to be a step up on usability and accessibility, but in an hour, what can you do? Turns out that Photoswipe is really easy to set up (I’ve used it on an Accenture project), once you know Twitter Bootstrap you can get something that works pretty well on an iPad, and using Compass I could style the layout pretty easily cross-browser.
So we iterated, and deployed as we went, essentially making a change and then ‘git push heroku’ once it was set up.
It came together very quickly, and what was really crucial was the combination of someone playing ‘curator’ (Katy) and someone making the code (me) - I think there’s something in there that could work well for other hack days.
Sadly, when it came to demo time, for some reason the internet failed, and while there were people in the audience browsing the app on their laptops, our connection froze so we couldn’t show it.
But that just means I got to polish a little bit on Sunday after the event!
So afterwards I added a bunch of nice features:
What I hoped to achieve with this isn’t “Oh that’s clever”, or “Flash is rubbish, use HTML5”, but to show that even with very limited time and resources you can experiment rapidly with what can be achieved just from the raw data, as long as it’s in a good-enough format.
But also, and mainly, to show that with an archive project, if you focus on the assets and units at hand (in this case, photographs) through a little story-telling and using a few best-practice ideas (permalinks, responsive design and so on) you can build something that can achieve the aims of your project in a simple, effective way - in this case, opening up the archive of one man’s unique experiences.
So, what’s next? I’m not sure - I doubt there’s any immediate budget anywhere to take this app forward, so I’ve open sourced it and it shall remain on Heroku under my account unless someone from one of the organisations involved wants to take it over. There’s tons that someone could do here - tracking artists through the archive, linking to other services, gathering photographs together into collections, mixing in DBPedia, adding Facebook graph and schema.org metadata, but for now that’s “Featureland”.
A fun hack, and I think we were all surprised that it’s actually possible to do that kind of thing so quickly with the free, open source tools available and a bit of experience using them.
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…
Loftify is a 5-hour hack for National Hack the Government Day, the annual get-together organised by Rewired State that combines software people, designers, academics, people in government with the aim of playing with all the interesting data that government has and producing ‘hacks’ (not the evil kind) to demonstrate interesting little ideas with what could be achieved.
The idea for Loftify came from a very quick conversation about the DECC data around home efficiency. So I thought I’d make a very small, targeted little app based around an unusal approach to encourage people to insulate their homes.
Loftify is group-buying for families, with the aim of raising enough money collectively to pay for home efficiency work to be done on older relatives’ homes.
Here’s a quick walkthrough of the app:
And to top off an already great day…
After three amazing years at Aframe I’m “moving on”.
It’s been equal parts fun, hard work, technical challenge, learning and inspiration. Many of you will know me as something of an experimenter and someone who’s good a taking an idea from a sketch on a piece of paper and turning into something that works (usually in an afternoon if possible). When I co-founded Aframe with David I wanted to really push myself into building something of scale. Hacking on things quickly and making fun stuff is good fun, but there’s really something to be said for rolling up your sleeves and attacking a Very Hard Problem. And video production via the browser, as it turns out is very hard indeed.
So for the last three years I’ve been dedicating myself to solving hard problems, really focussing on “just do one thing” and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved as a (very talented - wow) team.
I agreed on starting this thing with David back in 2009 that I’d be expecting that my usefulness to the company would be mainly around that startup period, taking a hard problem, working out potential solutions and being the “execution guy” to David’s “business sense guy”. It worked. I’m really proud that our investors trusted that Aframe is onto a winner and my leaving the company comes almost concurrently with the recent announcement of a significant VC investment.
Ever since day one I’ve adopted the mantra of “make yourself redundant” - that’s what a technical cofounder should always be trying to do and I’m lucky enough to have surrounded myself with so much talent that I’m confident that everything is in very safe hands indeed. So you have to be a grown-up - the company is coming out of that rapid innovation phase and is all about providing an excellent, reliable, scalable platform, and the skills involved in that are more about solid engineering than experimentation and hacking.
So I’m moving on to other things. And putting all of that hacker energy into a few ideas and projects I’ve been wanting to do for ages. I’d summarise what I’m up to as “playfully hacking on things that matter” and I’m intending on spending the next little while collaborating with interesting people (I’ve met so many this last couple of years), doing some charity projects, some not for profit work, lots of hack-days, culture, democracy - the kind of stuff I was up to back before I started Aframe actually!
It’s great to be leaving Aframe in safe hands and with such a bright future ahead (especially with such a strong group of investors on board), and I’m retaining a significant stake in the business.
So, please join me in raising a virtual glass to “play” and “hacking” and I’m totally wishing all the folks at Aframe every success - it’s going to be great to see what they’re doing come to fruition, even if I’m now at the side of the pitch cheering on.
#startuplife has been a real rollercoaster, and I’ve already heard the guys have a sweepstake running on how long it takes before I’m doing another startup. I’ll leave that one open, but for now, here’s to “playfully hacking on things that matter”. Oh and more monsters.
It, quite ambitiously, is about kicking off a series of interventions, projects, social enterprise ideas that address some of Ireland's problems, particularly as the country goes through a challenging period.
I've been doing some event-based work with Boz Temple-Morris recently - I'm playing the role of a live-coder / data-wrangler / visualiser. As the creative director of the event he brought me in to think about what we could do from a digital point of view to support the idea. After a few open-ended discussions we settled on the idea of addressing the "it's not just a talking shop" issue that many events, summits and conferences suffer from. Too often I go to well-meaning events and there's never any follow-up to the offers of support that are made and conversations that happen.
Here's how Change Nation came together (my role in all this was about one week of work in a year-long project).
50 Proven Solutions
Whenever I start a project, after working out what we're trying to achieve (in this case, addressing social issues in Ireland) it's important to focus on the simple elements that make up the project. What are the "units" that people can hold onto and understand. Luckily much of that thinking had been done before I joined in. The Ashoka team had researched 50 "Proven Solutions" from around the World, and invited the entrepreneurs behind them to come to the summit for four days to see if they could get their ideas off the ground in Ireland. These 50 are the focus of the whole project.
At many conferences there's a focus on panels and talks, break-out groups and so on. This was different - the focus was on one-on-one conversations. I'm really interested in how powerful this can be. Essentially the organisation acted as a match-maker to really make the most of the entrepreneurs' time in the country, and set up a series of conversations throughout the summit to give crucial access to decision-makers and power-brokers. Think heads of government departments, investors and high-profile business-people.
Each of the 50 entrepreneurs was assigned a "change executive". Whilst the name is a little opaque, the concept is quite simple - these are very smart under-30s volunteers who had come through a rigourous recruitment process, and their job was to play a concierge / PA / curator / reporter role throughout their entrepreneur's stay. They ensured everything ran to time, that any blockers were removed and that actions were recorded and could be followed up on after the event.
The "Action" as a unit
So we realised that the outcomes of these important, high-level conversations were what really mattered here. So we made an "Action" into one of the major "units" we would hang other work from. The idea was that after each conversation the "change executive" would sit with the two people who were talking, and record any concrete actions that would happen as a result.
We wanted these to be public. So we wrote them out large on pieces of corriboard (sturdy, plasticated cardboard) and physically displayed them during the event. Then we transcribed them into text, recording names and organisations, and they went straight out onto the web on the web-app we built for the event.
Then, to really reinforce this process we brought in Toby Harris (my old VJ crew partner) and he visualised the actions as they came in on a large screen at each of the four venues that we held the events in.
All in all, we managed to collect around 300 actions, and there's huge variety - "I'll introduce you to the minister", "I'll offer mentoring", "I'd like to run this project in my school"... Some are more concrete than others, but the crucial thing is that they are now publicly available online, all with unique URLs that we can refer back to and build upon.
It's quite gutsy doing this in public, but it added such weight to the conversations, and the event actually felt like something significant was happening and that there would be follow-up.
I was brought in quite late in all of this, and without being too harsh to the people who had volunteered to do their web production, the project had a pretty but very basic, static site as its digital front end. You know the kind of thing - there was an "about" page, a "news" section, and an "events" page. For the fifty solutions it was a single page with a list, and each item took you off to another site. And when Bono tweeted about the project it promptly took the site offline just from a handful of concurrent users.
It really needed something very different to support such a radical idea, so I took over on the Tuesday preceding the event and started rebuilding it. Not the kind of thing I'd normally advocate to be honest! This first four days of work on the tech were about getting the app into a workable state so that I could add the features that I thought it needed - a live element, landing pages for each solution, the ability to get user input from anyone, comments, social integration, and so on.
The stack I went for is my most familiar, and I seem to be using it on everything at the moment - MongoDB for the database, Ruby as the language of choice, with Padrino as the web / data-model / business logic layer, Mongoid as a simple ORM, S3 for image storage, Heroku (the Cedar beta in this case) for hosting, HAML for layout, Pusher for live interactivity, JQuery for UI and interaction, Compass for style.
Once the site was rebuilt (the day before the event!) I started coding up the actual features we needed to support the event. We drew out a "social" map to make it clear what we were doing and where the conversation would happen. Essentially - the #changenation hashtag was by far our most active way of interacting with people who weren't at the event, but also Facebook latterly seems to have become a place for conversation. In fact, we gained about 700 likes during this short period.
Because it was a custom-build I could code up and deploy features as they were required - essentially I live-coded the site/app during the event as things became necessary. This was really interesting, if a little pressured, but that kind of time-pressure does focus the mind.
One nice example is the "Live" (now "As it happened") page. We wanted to be able to grab things from the web as we found them and present them in a feed - videos, photos, tweets, links. I found that embed.ly had an API where you can give it a URL and it will give you back a full embed of the content at that URL (assuming it is in their provider list). So quite quickly (in about 2hrs) I made a simple admin area, we grabbed things from twitter, copied and pasted URLs into it, and then using Pusher the Live page would automatically update with a new embed appearing at the top of the page. Just that is something that could be useful for any event.
Mobile support was a big deal too. 20% of our users were on mobile, and most of the work that the change executives did was mobile-based. Grabbing content, stuffing it into a shared Posterous group (by gosh these guys need to fix their user-on-boarding process. Horrible! But it worked a bit in the end). The original site had no mobile support at all, so I went responsive right from the beginning. I'm a little tired of the bootstrap thing, even though it's great, so I used my favourite Skeleton for CSS. It's not perfect, because you're forced into using some old school non-semantic classes for layout, but because the design of the site was so unusual (45 degree angles on everything means lots of hidden divs) it seemed fair, especially given the time constraint.
Admittedly the page load is a bit much for mobile, but the site did function, and I managed to drop the bounce rate for mobile devices from 65% to about 40% - not perfect, but an improvement for people who wanted to read about the event.
One nasty gotcha we had was that the entire ident for the project was based around the Akzidenz Grotesk typeface. But there's not @font-face license available for it. If you're doing an event, make sure that the ident has this kind of licence (try things on Fontkit), otherwise you'll end up in a world of font-pain. I probably lost about two days in all of this to font tweaking at the expense of other, more impactful features.
I also spent some time getting Facebook graph in on every page - I've not seen whether this has been useful yet.
Toby's Spark Titler visuals app was a custom piece of software he has made, using Quartz Comoposer and XCode, and we used a simple atom feed / xml feed (probably not valid) to pull live data into it using a polling strategy (We're looking at Pusher for next time). Very very loosely coupled, and it meant the visuals would work even if there wasn't any internet because of local caching.
Photo / Video
We had a small team of videographers and photographers. These guys did a stunning job of documenting the event and at the end of each day Toby edited together and performed (!) a short 3-minute piece that really showed the progression of the ideas. Sadly, because getting good internet was a problem throughout the four days (on the last day we were on a shared iphone 3G personal hotspot!) we couldn't get the content up fast enough. In the end, we found that photos taken on an iphone and put on Twitpic were a much neater way of getting that "live" feel out. I think there's a role here for asking the photographer to do "proper" shots with their 5D/1D and then pull out an iphone just to get some shots online during the day.
We quite quickly hit the issue of just having too much data flowing around - tweets, facebook comments, comments on the site, posterous contributions, new actions on cardboard, RTE live content bein broadcast, and one of the most crucial jobs was handled by Carolyn Jones. She was our "data-wrangler" and just made sure that the right bits of information ended up in the right place in time. Quite a task! We were all frazzled by the end - it was like DJing with ten record decks.
One element I wish we'd had more of would have been a reporter, someone to write it up as it happened in a text-based live-blog. One for next time(!).
I've written this up just as a way of explaining some of the components that came together for this ambitious event. We played a small but crucial part in the process - documenting, making transparent, communicating, archiving and supporting the future success of these "solutions" and making sure the "actions" actually occur.
We're operating in some unknown territory here, so I'm chatting to the guys at Ashoka about where this could go next. I've got an idea for an "Activism CRM" that helps people collaborate and keep track of these actions, and support them digitally and transparently. Whether or not that sees the light of day, the crucial thing is that the event happened, it was well received, people "got it", and we've started a few ripples that could result in some ambitious social projects in Ireland.