Hacking BNP data

Less than a week after trying out some new data mapping concepts at Guardian Hack Day, a big pile of data appeared on the Internet begging to be mapped. Using some of their new skills and a convenient constituency data tool, a small team of innovators got to work to produce some really interesting data-driven journalism.

Mat Wall details what happened behind the scenes:

“[Simon Willison] wrote a piece of code to extract the 12,000 BNP member’s postcodes through the They Work For You constituency API. Now he had a voting constitency for each person on the list. He then injected this data back into his hack day project to plot this information onto the map obtained from Wikipedia. This took about an hour.”

Update: The project didn’t end there, it turns out. The infographics guys used the concept for the newspaper the next day. Here’s a picture of what was printed:
Hack Day Map in The Guardian Newspaper

Notes from Hack Day at The Guardian

We hosted our first Hack Day last week at The Guardian. Amazing fun.

Here’s a 15min highlight reel:

We did a lot of the standard stuff that makes Hack Day so interesting, but there were a few innovations to the event format itself that I thought worked really well, too:

  1. DabbleDB. Simon Willison setup a simple hack submission queue using DabbleDB, a handy online database tool. It’s as if the software was designed for this purpose. Two nice benefits: 1) you can upload a screenshot with your submission which it displays nicely, and 2) it prints beautifully. I handed out a hardcopy of the hack demo queue for each judge who then used the list to take notes.
  2. Double Screens. We setup 2 projectors so we could jump back and forth between presentation locations and save some time. While one person was presenting, the next person was setting up on the other screen. I was a little worried it would be distracting, but that wasn’t a problem at all.

    I think this is primarily what kept the pace up. We got through 37 hacks in just about an hour. At that pace you couldn’t really afford to look away. Oh, and Simon’s lightning timer was hugely helpful, too.

    This then had the nice effect of giving the judges more time to deliberate…

  3. Comprehensive recognition. The judges went through every single hack and found a way to acknowledge each participant. Emily Bell did a sort of improv act dishing out the jokes. She first went through all the hacks that “we would have given an award to”. Then she handed out the trophies…
  4. The Guardian Hack Day TrophySilly trophies. These worked perfectly. You can keep it on your desk. It makes no sense to anyone else. And it reinforces the idea that the recognition is for the work itself, not for winning a competition. We did hand out a couple of Flip cameras and Make Magazine generously offered some free subscriptions for the hardware hacks, but the emphasis was clearly on the hackers and their hacks, not the idea of ‘winning’.

Otherwise, it seemed to operate much like other Hack Days, except for the refreshing focus on hacks that mean something. I wasn’t sure what kind of hack quality to expect which was in fact very high, but I loved the fact that most of the hacks had the added dimension of context.

Many times a Hack Day results in a lot of amazing technology solutions for problems that don’t exist. I would never challenge the value of creativity for creativity sake, as that’s a big part of what Hack Day is about. But I was really happy to see that in addition to the impressive technical hacks things like Ben Griffiths’, Rob McKinnon’s and Simon Willison’s hacks (to name a few) presented data and information in new ways that could influence the way people think about what they are reading or interacting with.

Anyhow, the event was fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to doing it again.

Celebrating in the streets of San Francisco

Off topic here, but this video is worth sharing. My wife and I decided to take a stroll after the election speeches. We were heading for a pub but got sidetracked by all the noise in the streets of San Francisco. Then we saw a crowd forming and cops smiling, not a recognizable combination.

This is what we saw (1 min):

Some other accounts of the event:

Neil Girling: “Extra Action Marching Band led the crowd in jubilation, and there were many cheers and chants of “Obama” and “U S A.” The mood was ecstatic, and the cops were polite and extremely hands-off; a little after midnight, when they finally asked Extra Action Marching Band — who have a reputation for chaos and noise — to start to shut down, they did so with smiles and were met with the same.”

Tim Redmond, SFBay Guardian: “San Francisco is going crazy. I haven’t seen this much excitement in the streets since we shut down the city when the Iraq war began. But this time, we actually have something to celebrate.”

Sean Bonner, SF Metblogs: “My neighborhood went 9 kinds of insane last night.”

Strange Things Will Happen: “It was like Italy had won the World Cup, only with less mopeds and more high-fiving.”