The Hackathon, Revamped: Recs for Mixing Hackers & Storytellers

Storyslam session @Story Hack Day

Hello peers! So we’ve been working on an experiment over here at P2PU–with SoundCloud, we hatched a plan to revamp the hackathon, peer-learning style. The event was Story Hack Boston, and took place this past Saturday at the MIT Media Lab. 44 storytellers and hackers came together to tell stories. It was totally baller.

A Bit of Backstory

The idea for a P2PU/SoundCloud event came about during our Berlin popup office this summer. Longtime friend-of-P2PU and SoundCloud Developer Evangelist Paul Osman and I were drinking beers in Templehof Park, and he brought up the idea for a storytelling event. Since Philipp is now a visiting researcher at MIT, we had access to the Media Lab’s event space. And I’m very interested in bringing together different groups of folks to prompt sharing and learning, so this was fast shaping into a plan.

Our Approach to Story Hack Day

We wanted to take a distinctly peer learning approach to the event. All of our sessions would be “facilitated” rather than “led,” and all sessions would lead to a project. And since I’m so gosh darn constructionist, it’s important to me to strike a collaborative (versus competitive) tone. There would be no prizes, but rather folks will be motivated by intrinsic motivation and personal interest. Another goal would be to prompt interaction between these two groups–hackers and storytellers–for learning, discovery and delight.

What the Heck Happened?

In the morning, we offered 4 very different sessions that led to storytelling projects. These sessions were:

  • Heartbeat of MIT: Soundscapes, facilitated by Michael Boezi
  • Arc of the API: How to Use APIs to Tell Stories, facilitated by Paul Osman
  • Beyond Vox Pop: Creative Ways to Engage Your Audience, facilitated by Brendan Baker
  • Storyslamming, facilitated by Yours Truly

In the afternoon, folks worked on their projects until demos at 6.

A Few Highlights

There are 9 awesome projects that demo’d at the end of the day–those are all up on Hacker League.

A few of my favorite moments from the day:

  1. Serena and Leo: while Leo is a programmer and runs off to hackathons quite a bit, his girlfriend Serena (who is also a teacher and a mime) had never been to one. Story Hack Day was a hackathon that peaked both of their interests.
    They worked together on an awesome project where they interviewed Story Hackers about their dads. They presented at the demo, and check out their *amazing* project (featuring P2PU Executive Director Philipp Schmidt).  
  2. Story Hack Chain: When the Vox Pop group noticed that we needed to prompt more Hacker-Storyteller interactions, they decided that their project would be to interview both Hackers and Storytellers, and get them to ask questions of each other, and record the answers. The result was a *badass* storychain–take a gander.

Lessons Learned & Recommendations

At P2PU, we use the feedback mechanism “red yellow green” to reflect on activities and think about solutions & recommendations for next time. As the day ended, we sat down to think about what worked, what didn’t, and what we would change for next time. We hope this forms a roadmap for others who want to create interdisciplinary hackathons, and open up this project-based learning style to more folks.

Paul Osman

  • Red: registration retention–this is an unsolved mystery, 45 show-ups was surprising when we have 130 registrations
    • Recommendations: we should have hammered out the programming earlier–we did it piecemeal instead of all up front.
  • Yellow
    • Pitch for the event was a little too loose–>people didn’t really know what they were coming for
    • Goal for next time–everyone who registers knows whats going on and gets it
    • Give examples of related projects
    • Collaboration between hackers and storytellers
      • Integrate the API demos into all sessions?
      • Storytelling speed dating AS THE FIRST ACTIVITY to prime folks to think like storytellers
      • Group project like a storychain
  • Green
    • Space
    • Sessions–that got people who might not have been into it recording and actually doing
    • The demos. Oh man, the demos.

Amit Jotwani

  • Green
    • THE SPACE–if I could pack it and take it with me, I would
    • Creative people coming together with hackers
    • Use the platform we built as an example/template
    • People stayed all day who didn’t expect to…..people blew other options off in order to stay
  • Red: NO RED
  • Yellow
    • Need more ideas to bring hackers and storytellers together more so

Philipp Schmidt

  • Yellow:
    • I think we had a sweet spot with number of people–it wasn’t mayhem
  • Green
    • Overall most people made some connection across the hacker-storyteller divide–dont beat yourself up about it
    • Sometimes developers don’t talk to each other at all!!!
    • My day was awesome despite the hangover (VMG +1 Brendan +1)

Brendan Baker

  • Yellow
    • Reluctance on storytelling side to dive into a project
    • Storytellers don’t really know what hackathons are about–a little enculturation is necessary
  • Green
    • Some students who didnt initially plan to come from the hackathon–just for the food
    • When explained, they asked a bunch of questions and it turned into a really great conversation
    • What kind of outreach is possible in the educational establishment?

Michael Boezi

  • Red
    • Community around the list ahead of time
    • Get people to opt-in earlier?
  • Yellow
    • Enough hacking in his session, or sharing iterations or drafts
    • More horizontal sharing in the creating process
  • Green
    • Erin–saying she was not creative, only here because of her husband, but was inspired to jump in and do–she had NEVER opened garageband before & was innovative with the platform

 Evan Tenenbaum

  • Red: there was a dip of half hour after the sessions where people needed help actually digging in to their project–what next?
  • Yellow: individual motivation that storytellers took to make something happen
  • Green:
    • Demos–so, so stoked about those
    • Last 3 hours


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