Theorizing the Web Talk

Nate and Willow’s talk at Theorizing the Web 2014 on Hackathons are More than Hacks starts at 50:12

  1. Set up the mismatch between media and practice (3 mins max
    1. Introduce ourselves
      1. Willow
      2. Nathan
    2. N: If you’ve read about hackathons in the press, you’ve probably seen
      1. clever young hackers winning prizes for making tech
      2. rather than a community of all ages learning together
    3. W: show a quote by an organiser
    4. W: and a quote from a participant
    5. N: In this presentation, we share some early results from research on hackathons. We’re seeing a mismatch between media narratives and the stories participants themselves tell, a mismatch that is colouring critiques of hackathons.
    6. (describe our methods and context) (45 seconds) (brief)
      1. w: what is a hackathon, based on our experience and our interviews
      2. w: we interviewed around 15 participants, organizers, and facilitators.
      3. n: we analysed around 640 articles and blog posts about hackathons
      4. w: we’re involved
  2. W: In my interviews: Hackathons at the intersection of community building and engagement with institutions (who are the players, and what are their goals) (2 min)
    1. What hackathons we’ve looked and been involved in
      1. (slide) with a big list of logos and what years are covered with us and the people we’ve talked to
      2. (zoom) Communities (slide with lots of examples) (open source, disaster response, entreprenuers)
      3. (zoom) Organisations (slide with lots of examples) (businesses, governments, non profits)
    2. Who attends (front end, back end, subject matter experts, students) or just (do this for THEIR LIVING, professionals who want to volunteer their tech skills on a weekend, folk who want to learn more about a subject, folk who are passionate about a subject but don’t know how to engage)
  3. W: What actually happens at and after hackathons (3 mins) include a bunch of quotes
    1. People learn about new disciplines and challenges
    2. People find a way their skills can change the environment they’re in
    3. People find others with shared interests
    4. What happens with projects & initiatives
  4. N: How hackathons get portrayed (2 mins)
    1. Slide of what media we analyzed, including list of sources, MediaCloud mention, and histograms for Hackathon and Civic Hacking (640 articles)
    2. Simple revolutionary solutions
    3. Civic Hacking (80 articles & blog posts)
      1. equal measure PR
      2. project documentation
      3. critiques of the idea
    4. Superstars & Startups
    5. last point: mismatch between media narratives and interview results
  5. Major critiques of hackathons – coming from theorists, critics, and funders
    1. slide that points to hackathon critique articles & minisites (don’t try to respond)
      1. example: MELISSA GREGG & CARL DISALVO “The Trouble with White Hats” (New Enquiry) (
      2. example: National Day of Hacking Assumptions & Entitlement ( voices from people in those communities. Disconnect causing animosity.
      3. Morozov “Making It” New Yorker:
      4. David Sasaki (Omidyar, now Gates Foundation): On Hackathons & Solutionism
    2. List Critiques (willow)
      1. Produces incomplete & short-lived projects (prototyping) – addressed when about the community rather than about the media.
      2. Free labor for companies & gov’t
      3. Doesn’t create fundamental change
      4. Props up existing structures, making them more efficient
      5. Inauthentic citizenship as alternative to meaningful change
      6. Only addresses technically actionable solutions
      7. It’s impossible for tech to support meaningful structural change
      8. False Empowerment: Solutionism in a weekend
      9. Distraction: People feel good about shiny ideas that never have impact
      10. Emphasizes superstars rather than communities
      11. Entrenches exclusion by favoring people with technical skills
    3. Nathan: What ties these critiques together is an emphasis on media portrayals and less a focus on actual community practices we’re seeing
      1. Media doesn’t emphasize learning
      2. Media doesn’t emphasize community building
      3. Media supports an overly simplistic solutionist narrative
      4. Media prefers a one hero story about shallow revolution
      5. Media attention focused around the hackathon event, with limited follow-up: if projects proceed beyond prototype, we don’t hear about on going effort
      6. All of these things can obscure what really happens
  6. W: Based on what we’ve found: Responsibility for hackathons, media, and researchers, for a method that’s still growing and evolving (3 minutes)
    1. W: Impart a sense of what these become as what we make of them. By their very nature, they are malleable. People with skin in the game need to be engaged with responsibly.
    2. W: Solid as a working method – especially cross-culturally (closing technological gaps as well as socioeconomic / access gaps)
    3. W: So you’re organizing a hackathon – think about how you’re portraying it to all parties, and make sure to amplify communities and practices, not just projects
    4. M: So you’re reporting on a hackathon – reporting on projects is lazy – look deeper into the community practices, learning, and engagement with institutions
    5. M: So you’re researching hacker culture – find a stance that acknowledges and respects the voices, experiences, and work of the communities whose outcomes and potential will be directly affected by the arguments you make from a position of power and privilege. Go beyond critique and simple media criticism for a deeper engagement with communities and practices
    6. W: Use & contribute to