My experience at CHS11

Friday night and yesterday I was at Culture Hack Scotland 2011 (#chs11). It was a 24 hour hackday. A hackday is a session where designers, developers and other hackers get together and create stuff. Typically there’s a theme, and this theme was culture with specific focus on the Edinburgh Festivals. The event was put on by the Festivals Lab.

In this post I’ll share my experience, talk about the future of what I started, and offer some suggestions for future events.

My experience

My interest at the beginning of the session was the people in the room. There seemed to be a lot of outward focus. People were building stuff for other people, for the public, for some sort of audience. I wanted to do something for the people physically present. I wanted to make some kind of contribution to the shared social experience of the event.

I started out thinking about photo and video. Taking portraits of participants maybe, or creating a video diary corner. After a couple of hours I hit on an idea. I wanted to do something with qrcodes and people. (A qrcode is a square barcode that many smartphones can scan, more on wikipedia.) Tagging physical people with qrcodes so they could be scanned by other participants in the event.

I had a vision of people complimenting each other, providing encouragement, and so on by scanning each other. So a person might be sitting working furiously and another participant walks past, scans them, and shares a positive message.

The execution seemed simple enough. I’d generate qrcodes that linked to twitter with the tweet message pre-filled, including the person’s twitter username. So I can scan Jill and immediately have a pre-written tweet saying something @jill.

The whole thing was incredibly simple. I wanted to launch in the morning, but spent ages getting the qrcodes printed. Tom Inglis helped a great deal here. He physically purchased and printed the stickers! I arrived just before 9am fired up and ready to go, but it was well after 1pm before I had the stickers ready to print. That could have been a lot faster, it was an easy problem to solve.

The next step was to tag people, which went fairly well. Most people were receptive. In total I linked 82 qrcodes to twitter accounts. In total, I count 21 tweets with the #tagrrd hashtag. So there were 4 qrcodes for ever one actual tweet. Those 21 tweets were produced by 16 authors over about 9 hours. That’s about one scan every 30 minutes.

I had hoped for much higher participation, but I think my execution let me down in the morning. I think if I had gotten the tags out earlier in the day, I could have spent more time encouraging people to use them.

Future of tagrr

I can see some interesting potential the concept. For example, I like the idea of creating a simple brand around a qrcode. Surrounding it in a red box for example. Then potentially sticking qrcodes around the city, maybe along the lines of geocaching. I also think the same idea could be done at other events with the tags handed out as people arrive. People might use them more if they were part of the event experience from the beginning.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled for other events where I could try to test the idea further. If you’re reading this and hosting an event in Edinburgh, let’s discuss the possibilities.

Suggestions

At future hack days, I’d love to see more tech oriented communication during the event. The #chs11 hashtag allowed people to communicate around twitter, which was ok. I think there’s room for easy improvement here.

A screen dedicated to showing a specific hashtag for developers would have been good. Somewhere developers could post questions, receive answers, and so on. Maybe that happened around the #chs11 tag and I missed it all, but a screen in the room would be good I reckon. Another nice option is the WordPress p2 theme. It’s a sort of vaguely private mini-twitter. Can all be done for free on wordpress.com.

Personally, and this is totally personal feedback, I would provide less food more often. The food appeared to be quite expensive, which is nice. I reckon the experience could be improved slightly by having less expensive food always available. For example, a fridge with sandwiches and snacks in it. It would be cool to have them freshly delivered at breakfast and lunch, but ultimately, probably not essential. Likewise with drinks. Having a coffee machine in the room, always on, continuously filled, for the whole 24 hours would be awesome.

A halfway demo might work well. Giving people the option, not required, to present their project after breakfast for example. Let the guys who worked overnight show off what they’ve done, maybe bring new people into their work. Likewise, people could pitch tough problems they’ve hit, see if other folks in the room have solutions to offer.

Overall, the event was awesome. Personally, I had a great time. The highlight for me was the sense of cooperation between the participants. There was a great spirit of collaboration, people sharing problems, bouncing idea between different teams, and so on. There was amazing talent in the room.

5 thoughts on “My experience at CHS11”

  1. Nice write-up Callum, just wanted to say that you shouldn’t feel to disheartened by a lack of take up of Tagrr over the weekend. I certainly found myself madly hacking away to finish my own demo, not leaving me much time to try it out.

    See you at #chs11.5 πŸ™‚

    1. Yeah, I think the format is cool, and it would have seen higher engagement if the tags had gone out early. Maybe I’ll do it at #chs11.5… πŸ™‚

  2. Thanks for this feedback Callum, it’s really good stuff.

    Catering-wise, we were a limited by what’s legit at Informatics. We wanted to have 24hr coffee but it wasn’t possible with the set up.

    Developer back-channel also good idea, we had talked about having an IRC but never got round to it I guess. We’d have been flexible about how to use screen so next time (or at similar events) if it’s not there, maybe suggest to production team or indeed other coders who can help self-organise around it

    1. Overall, the event was great, that’s my resounding feedback. Thanks for all the hard work that I’m sure went into it. The range of data was really great. I think the in-conference comms could be an easy thing to sort out. The flashing twitter messages was helpful, something along the same lines but maybe persistent would be awesome I reckon. I was reading about your meditation stuff on your site, some nice ideas. Kick started a project with a friend, I’ll send you a link if we ever get it live. πŸ™‚

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