On Saturday and Sunday, I worked on the “Political Colours” map of Romania (in fact, a wannabe geo-spatial database for any and all kinds of data that you can divide up to the commune or village level). This was part of the Open Media Challenge hackathon organized by “the Sponge Media Innovation Lab”.
Before the event
When I first heard about the idea back in May, it seemed like a great opportunity to make an inventory of the existing data sources and the licenses they can be used under. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the “let’s distribute them freely [as in free content]” part turned into “let’s put them on the web with a big fat disclaimer and hope no one calls the police”. So the whole idea was a big failure from this point of view.
The organizing committee worked in total secrecy, ignoring the public mailing list created for this kind of discussions and showing a very original approach to the concept of “openness”.
During the event
The hackaton was organized in The Bucharest Polytechnic. Saturday morning was the day when students came to register before the school year (or something like that), which meant that the venue was full of people. Fortunately, the rooms were clearly marked with arrows – or so I thought. In fact, they forgot to mark the most important room – the rendez-vous point. 🙂 No biggie, somebody had left their phone number on the marks so I was able to find the place quickly.
The actual organization of the event was quite good – wireless Internet, coffee, juices and water at will, pizza for lunch and sandwiches in the afternoon. There was always someone around to help us with any organizing issue.
The people participating could be divided into 3 categories:
- Coders – very realistic, result driven people, just like you would expect. My team was especially lucky to have an equilibrated age structure – both young students and more seasoned professionals.
- Journalists – the only thing I could tell about them is: over dressed and over enthusiastic. Some of them seemed to be so focused on opening the government data that they were ignoring even the most basic rules of personal data protection. The phrase “it’s public money, so you need to have your data public if you want some!” seemed to be their motto.
- Others (activists, curious bystanders and even business people) – this category is probably too broad to characterize as one. Each one had their own ideas, plans and objectives. Some of them were interesting people, others not so much (read: useless hipsters)
After the event
On Sunday we were invited to a bar in the Old City to present each team’s achievements and to have some more presentations from “interesting” foreigners. To me, it was extremely boring, so I gave up and left after about an hour (and missed the moment when the jury announced we had won :P). Again, the catering was pretty good.
Overall, I think the OMC was a little more than a waste of time. Less talks and more talk (between participants) on Sunday would have gone a long way. The project I’ve worked on was in pretty good shape already, so we only fixed some bugs and imported more data. The planning was not fabulous, but it was better than in other hackathons I’ve been in. What we lacked was that one thing that would have all of us work together. We could very well work from home and have the exact same results.