ramblings from the hive mind

Paper Hack

6 October 2012 | View comments
Damien Austin-Walker

The idea came to me the night before. I was going to Barcampnfp in the morning and I felt duty bound to host some kind of session. The last hackday I was at it took some time to come up with the problem we wanted solve, and the solution. This ate into our time for actual hacking. I had decided that the next hackday I would prepare better and come with a few ready ideas in order to get started from the get go.

Concept mapping

But Barcampnfp wasn’t a hackday. I wasn’t expecting many programmers to be there. But I knew there would be plenty people with passion and ideas to solve problems and create good. And maybe some who would be interested to know more about what could be done with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

Maybe we could:

  • Discuss what APIs are and what they can do;
  • Come up with some examples of APIs;
  • Get into pairs or small groups and ‘hack’ together an idea for an application using these APIs - on paper.

I only had 45 minutes to run the session. The Speed Paper Hack was born.

Application Programming Interfaces

We started by explaining what APIs were as a few didn’t know. A few other people in the session helped me out with this, which was lucky as I didn’t have this video explanation to hand.

We crowdsourced a selection of APIs

After 20mins of hacking on paper we had produced….a monster.

A six API monster mashup

monster hack on post-its

  1. A volunteer logs the hours volunteered and the role.
  2. Ask the gov api for an quivalent cost.
  3. We could publish this data (maybe distributed on a map).
  4. Volunteer shares this with friends via the Facebook OpenGraph API - challenging to match it with a donation via the Just giving API. Friends can also search for their own volunteer opportunity to volunteer..
  5. Volunteer can also post details to their their LinkedIn experience profile.
  6. For fun and to add an extra incentive the volunteer can choose a song from the Deezer API to send to their friend to listen to while they also volunteer.

Definitely a monster.

Keep It Simple Stupid

In hindsight we broke some golden rules:

  • Pick one problem that needs solving
  • Only have one path for getting there or you will confuse users with too much choice

I initially imagined the group getting into small teams to create their hack, but we ended up doing it as one group. Small groups might solve the complexity problem, and allow for different ideas to be developed.

Even so, there are a couple of elements in the monster hack that if done alone might be worth following up on their own.

Hacking on

One interesting element was putting an equivalent cost on the time donated by utilizing the gov data api. Many thanks to Neil from Rewired State for this idea. Neil did his own session later in the day outlining the hack days they run including those for young people through their philanthropic arm - Young Rewired State. If you are interested in learning more about hacking I encourage you to check out these examples of real hack applications produced by young people.

  1. Not currently a public API

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