Entries in hack day (4)

Tuesday
Nov192013

projectPlutus – a creative hack weekend

This weekend I headed up to the Edinburgh TechCube to help out at a workshop hosted by Young Scot. The purpose of the workshop (code named projectPlutus after the Greek god of wealth) was to bring together a group of 16-20 year olds in a “hackathon" style event focusing on developing ideas of apps that’ll help young people with saving money. The event was sponsored by the Money Advice Service and also present were some folks from StormID who’ll be bringing the ideas to life.

Around 25 “young people” came along to Edinburgh for the weekend having been selected from a list of applicants. The experience and background of each person varied – some were studying computer science, some had experience of building websites and applications through to others whose interest lay in marketing and promotions. They did however have one key thing in common – they all formed part of the intended target audience for the application.

The weekend started with building user persona’s for the intended audience of the application. This started with the people in the room pulling together a view of the kind of websites and applications they used, attitudes towards money and saving, what they were doing in terms of work/study, as well as a bunch of other things. This information was put up onto a persona wall.

User persona board at #projectPlutus

Building on the information captured on the persona wall four teams were created to start researching the target user audience in more detail. They started brainstorming questions that they thought would be interesting to find out, questions like:
* how much money do you earn?
* where does your money go?
* what things did you buy last week that you didn’t really need?
* what’s the minimum wage for a 16 year old?

Using a variety of sources (such as information online, the MAS Financial Capability of 15-17 year olds report, and people in the room) the groups began finding answers to their questions, building up more detailed user personas and then sharing back to the wider group.

Teams reporting back on their research. #projectPlutus @YourMoneyAdvice @YoungScot @stormID

With a pretty good understanding of the target audience the group were then told a bit more about the purpose of the application. At this point they knew it was related to young people and to money, but they were now asked to start thinking about the idea of saving for a goal. It could be for something relatively short-term like buying concert tickets or a new pair of shoes, or for something longer-term like a car or a holiday.

With this in mind the group broke back out into teams to start discussing ideas for a potential app and like any good creative process the room was soon covered in post-it notes, sketch paper and flip-charts. Wandering between the groups myself and others from the Money Advice Service, Young Scot and StormID listened to the discussions happening within each group. Where needed we helped make suggestions about things to consider and different ways to look at tackling a problem – but on the whole discussions were free flowing and great ideas were starting to be put on paper.

After an hour-or-so it felt as though there may be a little too much focus on some of the low level details and as a consequence some of the great creative thinking was being held back, so at the suggestion of the folks from StormID everyone put down their sharpies and reformed as one big group. Two huge rolls of paper were rolled across the floor and everyone was asked to spend the next 45 minutes-or-so sketching out ideas for the future of money – the crazier the idea the better!

Ideas ranged from virtual-reality rooms that visualised all the money you had in piles, through to chips being implanted into your body that gave an electric shock each time you overspent, through to removing the concept of money and replacing it with trading chickens and favours

Sketching out ideas for the future of money #projectPlutus @YourMoneyAdvice @youngscot @stormID

Following this burst of creative thinking the teams re-grouped and set about evolving their initial ideas in a new light. Suddenly rather than worrying about the technicalities of what button needs to go where, and what labels are needed on a sign-up form the teams began designing in a more abstract manner – from polystyrene tamagotchi-type characters, to rainbow climbing dream-catchers, to plasticine modelled money wells!

As the first day came to a close each team presented where they were with their ideas to the rest of the group and after a quick de-brief from Young Scot everyone headed off for an evening of italian food and ghost tours!

#projectPlutus "DreamBase#

Sunday morning started with a re-cap from day one followed by each team providing constructive feedback on the other team’s ideas. There was then the rest of the morning to continue fleshing out some of the details, drawing up user journeys before an end of day idea pitch.

Pitch one – Money Magic
The first pitch was for an app called Money Magic. The team looked at someone who was struggling with debt but wanting to make an effort to save money. The user would input personal details such as their name, income, expenditures as well as a savings goal. The app would provide you with a savings plan to help you meet that goal. As a motivation to help people save the team also introduced the idea of having 'money games' that the user would be able to play through the course of their savings plan. Adopting a similar model to that of Candy Crush, in order to gain more lives or to progress through levels within the game the user would have to meet their savings goals.

#projectPlutus "Money Magic" app pitch

Pitch two
The 2nd team to present their idea took on a very methodical and pragmatic approach. They looked at how influencing someone’s behaviour in their day-to-day life was key to helping them save. Recognising that all the “little things” you buy can soon add up their idea for an app was to help you calculate how much you were spending whilst out shopping (through scanning item barcodes to obtain the item details and cost, or through manually inputting). The app would provide advice as to cheaper alternatives or other places to purchase that item from. You’d also tell the app about what you wanted to save for, and money that you saved through purchasing cheaper items (or through deciding not to make the purchase) would go towards your savings goal.

#projectPlutus day 2 "name to be decided!" app pitch

Pitch three – Money Advice Pal
The third app pitch was from the ‘Money Advice Pal’ this idea stemmed from the notion of having a tamagotchi-type pet that you had to keep alive and well through saving money. Over the course of the weekend the team nurtured their initial idea into a really strong concept that helped promote saving for a rainy day. This was something that they acknowledged was an important, but difficult challenge – saving for a “thing” meant you had a clear goal, but saving for emergencies was harder to achieve.

The idea for the Money Advice Pal, or MAP, was that you created a profile of yourself along with a customisable avatar or character. You told the app a bit about yourself, such as your income and recurring expenditure. And as you made purchases you’d input those details into the app, categorising them so that you can look back on your spending habits. The more that you used the app, and the more money that you put aside for savings you were reward with points that allowed you to further customise your avatar.

The team also looked at the power of visualisation, they took forward an idea from day 1 of being able to watch your money grow as you saved. Along with this also had a concept of bubbles representing a users various spending categories, these bubbles would change size and colour the more or less you spent.

#projectPlutus "Money Advice Pal" app pitch

Pitch four – Dream Base
The fourth and final app came from Dream Base. They recognised that savings and goals can be quite dry, boring things. Instead they liked to think of goals as dreams, and that saving was all about chasing your dreams. Their idea took on a very colourful, visual theme introducing dream catchers and dream makers!

When you first went to the app you gave some information about yourself, you also created a visual representation of your dream – this may be a picture of a beach if you wanted to save for a holiday, or maybe your dream car. Having a picture of ‘the thing’ meant you were able remind yourself of the what it was you were chasing.

Whenever you put money aside you’d record this in the app where you’d be able to see how close you were to realising your dream. And if at any point you were struggling, needed advice, or didn’t know how you were able to save more money you’d be able to call an advice line where you could speak to expert ‘dream makers’.

#projectPlutus "Dream Base" app pitch

Across all the teams there were so many fantastic ideas, and a lot was achieved over the course of just one weekend. The challenge now is to turn these ideas into something real. Over the next couple of months StormID will be working with Young Scot and the Money Advice Service to build an application taking the best elements from across all the teams. Where possible we’ll be involving the teams throughout this process, and all being well we’ll have something available in app stores from the early 2014. 

Sunday
Aug072011

Young Rewired State - 2011

Last week at Osmosoft we hosted the Westminster arm of Young Rewired State, a week long mulit-site event for 14-17 year olds to build amazing things with open Government data. It was an awesome, though throughly exhausting week!

This is 3rd year of Young Rewired State and 2011's event was the biggest yet with 14 centres, 100 coders and over 40 hacks being produced.

At Osmosoft we hosted seven YRSers; Kush Depala, Alex Hill, Joshusa Allwood, Isabell Long, Joe O'Dell, Daniel Saul and Priyesh Patel. Throughout this blog I'll collectively refer to them as coders – as that is what they are, everything else sounds a bit too patronising!

At the start of the week there were varying level of abilities in the room ranging from those having only done a little bit of coding through to others being pretty proficient in a number of programming languages. We were also joined by two mentors, James Marwood, a business consultant and Robert Young, a back end programmer and expert data wrangler!

We started the week with a group session where we discussed our motivations behind attending the event and what we wanted to get from it, this discussion included everyone. Reasons for attending ranged from previous attendance at a Young Rewired State event through to wanting to get more involved in coding. A common comment however was that opportunities to get involved with and learn about coding whilst at school were few and far between – without exception everyone was self-taught and it was through events such as this one that they got to learn.

Day one idea boardAfter finding out why everyone was here we moved onto what everyone wanted to get from the week, ideas they had for potential hacks and problem areas which needed addressing. At first the discussion here was a little quiet, but not surprising given that there were a lot of new faces and the environment of a hot, air condition-less Telephone Exchange somewhat different to usual surroundings! But it didn't take long to get ideas going and we discussed the merits of each, the feasibility of coding something up in a week and other data sets, tools and open source projects that could be used to help. At the end of the session we had a number of ideas for potential hacks and the coders broke into pairs to discuss further, gather data and get to work on building something.

Throughout the week the involvement of the Osmosoft folk and mentors was fairly low touch, we gave some pointers as to different ways of tackling problems, ensured that focus was being given across all the required areas, but the code was written entirely by the YRS coders. Where there were gaps in knowledge we were able to get them started but very quickly they took full control of the reins – for example Kush had never done any CSS before, I spent 5mins showing a couple of things and when I came back 30mins later he'd styled a page including some pretty funky looking Webfonts!

Jon Robson of Osmosoft w/ Joe O'Dell

Judging by the quality of all the presentations from Friday across all the centres I'm not sure that this is needed, but I thought I'd highlight a few of the things which worked especially well for us and are worth considering next year:

  • Spending enough time planning as a group – encouraging discussion with everyone led to a number of initial ideas being adapted into potentially stronger ideas following inputs from everyone and not just those who wanted to build it. Don't be tempted to break away from the group too early as holding off getting into the code for just a little bit will pay dividends
  • Pairing up coders – there is a lot of be said about pair programming and it was certainly beneficial during the YRS week. By pairing up ideas were constantly bounced off of each other and it definitely helped to keep momentum going over the short but intense period of time.
  • Having ICR on screen – this year we made good use of the IRC channel where we had it set up on a large screen in the centre of the room. Not only was it a quick and fruitful place to ask questions it was also reassuring to see what others centres were working on (plus a reminder to stop for lunch when there was talk of pizza and donuts)!
  • Regular stand ups and show & tells – each day we ran and recorded a daily stand up at 12noon and a daily show & tell at 4pm. There were no excuses, everyone had to participate. The noon stand up was, as you'd expect, a quick 30 seconds per person on what they're currently working on, their next steps and any potential road blockers. The 4pm show & tells were slightly longer and were geared towards preparing everyone for being able to relay and demo what its was they were working on in 2 minutes (as per the rules for the end of week presentations).
  • Supply of food and drinks – sounds like an obvious one but having a good supply of food and drinks available is a tremendous help. Last year everyone had to go outside the building if they wanted to get soft drinks or snacks, this led to a lot of stopping and starting but having them on hands in the room kept things flowing nicely ...although next year I'll remember to get Coke Zero rather than diet!
  • Having lunch together – everyday we made a point of stopping and having lunch together. It was directly after the noon stand-up so followed on nicely for those who wanted extend discussions about their hacks, but more often than not it was an opportunity to talk about something other than YRS. It was great for getting to know everyone and a healthy break away from the screen! 

YRS coder: Josh, Kush and Alex

By the end of the week the YRS coders based at Omsosoft had produced five working hacks;

On the final day of the week all the YRS coders from across all the centres got together at Microsoft's London office for an afternoon of presentations. There were some incredible hacks produced and its probably safe to say that everyone left in awe of what had been done in just a week. The YRSers from Osmosoft did a great job in showcasing there efforts and with slightly shaky hands (I think I was more nervous than they were) I recorded their presentation:

It was a fantastic week and I'll definitely be taking part again next year, although that seems so far away – hopefully there be an opportunity to do something similar in between?

Monday
Feb142011

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