Hi there internet. As I type there are many thousands of wonderful people getting stuck into day two of GovHack 2016. A day where they get their projects ready for judging, and a day that I wanted to share a quick tips.
In their own words, "GovHack is an open data hackathon held across Australia and New Zealand".
In my words, it's an incredible community of hackers, developers, data journalists, open data advocates and designers coming together to spend an incredible weekend together.
A few years ago I attended GovHack as "media", as I was just starting the Tech Tidal project that served for some time as the voice of the Queensland startup and tech community. When I arrived at the amazing QUT campus in the Brisbane CBD (just a few blocks from my office at Red Hat), it took all of ten minutes to realise I needed to participate properly.
GovHack is... an incredible community of hackers, developers, data journalists, open data advocates and designers coming together to spend an incredible weekend together.
But my backstory isn't as interesting as this tip as a former participant and prize winner. My team created a project called Brisbert, which won multiple major prize categories (and a bunch of prize money which I put aside and eventually helped start Corilla!).
Here's what we learned in the process.
1. Narrative is important.
Our project was based around the idea of "old man Brisbane", a wonderful but rambling character that knew everything about our city and wouldn't stop telling us about it.
Technically we built a data federation engine that fed both a web-app and a Twitter bot. You asked it a question about Brisbane, and it replied with some facts. And then a continual conversational stream. It was hilarious.
But it was not only an expression of the power of data as a narrative form, but utterly reliant on our ability to tell a story about it in the process. Which brings me to...
2. Your video is an important part of your storytelling
We happened to have a bunch of creatives on our team, and brought in our Canon 5DMKII DSLR cameras and a spare GoPro. As you can see in our video below, this gave us an edge in the story telling, while still also being very fast to cut.
I wrote the scripts, filmed and cut it in FCP X in a matter of hours. But don't let the aesthetics get in the way too much. The visual appeal mattered less than the structure of the video.
Notice how we present the narrative. We introduce the team as a way to show our attention to balancing the skillsets. Luke gives a summary of what the project is, Jason describes the technical scope of the data federation engines and our API. Ton gives a demo of the webapp and what's happening in relatime. And I basically pitch it like it's the best thing in the world. And I'll admit, a touch of startupo hyperbole (e.g. the "triumphant proof of concept" makes me laugh even to this day). But note that I also show the ongoing applicability of the project. It was a real thing and I can even now think of applications for it even in the commercial space.
3. Have fun
Honestly this is one of Australia's best hackathons in virtually any metric you care to acknowledge.
GovHack is put on by a tireless team of wonderful people who are ensuring Australia is making the most of the power of open data. And in the process it is attracting (and building) an incredible and inclusive community from right across Australia (and New Zealand... sorry kiwis!).
Plus, it's just a lot of fun. And if you think that I'm sitting here in Boston as I type this right now - as the cofounder of a venture backed open source startup - you just never know what you might learn and be inspired by in the process. Get involved. Get involved. Get involved!
Good luck and have fun!