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Guardian SXSW Hack Weekend 2011

Over the weekend of February 12th/13th The Guardian hosted a two day hackathon.  The purpose of which was to consider the obstacles faced by journalists and reporters whilst covering events such as SXSW.  An alternate, slightly broader objective was to simply build "cool shit".  Jemima Kiss from The Guardian explains more about the event here.

In the build up to the hack weekend I'd been thinking about the kind of problem I'd like to tackle.  A problem which seemed to be particularly relevant for SXSW due to the sheer number bands playing, 1,900+ over 5 days, was figuring out who to go and see.  Looking at the SXSW schedule is a daunting task to find out about bands you've never heard of – and lets face it, out of 1,900 bands there gonna be quite a few who are new to you.

Since picking up my ticket for SXSW I've been busy finding out about who's playing.  This has typically consisted of a lot time on LastFM, creating a Spotify playlist, reading up on Wikipedia entries, and generally soaking up what the web has to offer.  All of which has been fun, but not something that I want to do for all 1,900 bands.

So coming into the hack weekend I thought it might be cool to have something which listed all the bands playing at a festival and against each one pulled in information associated to the band from across the web displaying it all in one place.  Combining this information with the location, date and time of the gig would then allow me to build up a schedule of who I wanted to see.  I also wanted someway of recording my notes about the band that could then be shared with others.

All of this sounds pretty doable, but not being a programmer I wasn't sure where to start!  Thankfully I was able to buddy up with Ben Nickolls and Paul Tanner who were both interested in tackling the same problem.

Over the course of the two days what we were building changed approach a couple times due to reasons partially technical, partially through time constraints and partially through my realisation that trying to learn (basic) JavaScript at 4am wasn't cool.

What we ended up with at the end of the weekend was a two-pronged solution.  A webapp built using jQTouch that uses data provided from both Robbie Clutton's and Matt Andrews's APIs to display a list of all the bands playing at SXSW and then a breakdown of a suggested schedule based upon your LastFM listening habits (a massive thank you to Robbie and Matt for providing the APIs).  From the webapp you can see some basic information about the band and if you wanted more you could then click through to a more detailed view where you can also add your own notes to be shared with others.

The detailed view of the band we built using TiddlySpace where with the help of Paul Downey's LastFM plugin it pulls in information relating to that band.  It still needs a bit of love but we hope to continue working on it over the next few days, you can keep track of what we do here and at gsxsw.tiddlyspace.com.

Overall the hack weekend was incredible fun and although I left feeling exhausted I'm eager for the next one to come around.  I learnt a huge amount over the two days and made some great new friends.  Some awesome hacks were built and you can see the full list here.

Oh, and we also got so cool retro swag:

Retro schwag! #GSxSW


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