Last week, the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership invited 20 developers, designers, and journalists to take part in a week of hacking and making in Berlin. I forget at what point in the planning one of the participants jokingly called it “Hacktoberfest,” but the name stuck. And so now that the jet lag has worn off for the most part, I thought I’d reflect on three of my standout moments of Hacktoberfest and how they’re influencing my thinking moving forward on the Knight-Mozilla project.
Working in the open
Sitting in a meeting with our news partners, I got to witness a great moment. At the start of that meeting, a discussion cropped up around the Partnership’s core belief that code produced by Knight-Mozilla fellows should be open-sourced. There was hesitation on the part of some partners, worried that open-source code would reveal too much. An hour or so later, there was a discussion about possible collaborations among partners’ newsrooms, but it wasn’t making much headway, as collaboration with possible competitors is not the normal order of business.
But then it dawned on everyone: Open source made that a non-issue. By working in the open, fellows won’t simply be producing things for their host organizations, but for any news organization that wants to use the code. You could see people linking back to the earlier conversation about open source and realizing that it meant far more than just code — it meant a new way of working, of embracing collaboration, and of blazing a real way forward.
Quit yakking and start hacking
Sitting in the back of our main hackspace at Betahaus, watching team after team get up and present their work, it dawned on me how awesome it was to spend four days seeing people with disparate skill sets truly collaborate around building something.
Too often we orient getting people together around having a drink or listening to a speaker. “Quit yakking and start hacking“ was the order of the day, and it worked. Multiple projects went from just an idea to a functioning demo in a matter of days. It’s gratifying to me that there is a GitHub repo full of code from the week. Even more so that it was built through open collaboration among so many different types of people.
A new community
After dinner one evening, we took both the Hacktoberfest participants and representatives from our news partners to Cbase, a storied (and slightly ramshackle) hacker space in Berlin. Standing at the bar next to a guy with a huge beard and a leather kilt, I looked out over the main room and was genuinely moved as I watched many from our group moving a table strewn with their laptops over to join in with a table full of German hackers. My eyes adjusted to the blacklight, and I saw hackers, journalists, developers and news partners all sitting around together, socializing and drinking and making. It was awesome — a real lasting image of a new community built in Berlin.
So what does all this mean for the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership moving forward? Well, in the short term, Hacktoberfest was the last step in a lengthy process to arrive at our 2011 fellows — expect an announcement in a few weeks. But longer term, I think there are some real lessons to be learned from the event in Berlin, and some real ways those lessons will help to shape the Partnership in 2012:
- I think the news partners really enjoyed feeling a part of the process, of meeting people and being engaged in the ideas being bandied about. Definitely getting the news partners to be partners throughout the year, instead of simply hosts for fellows at the end is a key step.
- Additionally great: More opportunities to make code. The paths blazed by the Partnership in 2011 centered around design challenges and learning labs, which I think were both successful and should be replicated, but there wasn’t anywhere near enough hacking going on, so more code in 2012 I think is a great goal.
- Finally, building community is important. It’s easy to get focused on process and look inwardly for community, but figuring out ways to intersect with the community around news innovation and making, as well as with the many other developer, design and open gov communities and others that very much intersect with journalism, is crucial.
Three moments, three lessons learned. Let’s hear it for a successful Hacktoberfest!
A version of this story first appeared here.