The concept behind Hacks and Hackers, a global phenomenon, is simple: bring a bunch of hacks (journalists) and hackers (coders) together to build something really cool that other journalists and industry people can use. We were in nerd heaven.
The day kicked off with a talk from the lovely Francis Irving (@frabcus), Scraperwiki’s CEO. Francis talked about Scraperwiki’s main use-scraping data, stats & facts from large datasets – and the company’s background, from being built by coder Julian Todd to
getting funded by 4IP.
After that, the gathered geeks split off into groups, all with the same
goal: scrape data and find an explosive, exclusive story. First, second and third prizes would be awarded at the end of the day.
You don’t realize how similar coding and reporting are until you
watch a hack and a technologist work together to create something.
Both vocations have the same core purpose: creating something
useful that others can use (or in the hack’s case, unearthing
information that is useful to the public).
The headlines that emerged out of the day were amazing. ‘Mr No Vote’ won first prize. When citizen hacks Ivor Whitten, Matt Johnston and coder Robert Moore of e-learning company Learning
Pool used Scraperwiki to scrape electoral data from local government websites, they found that over 60% of voters in every constituency in Northern Ireland (save one) abstained from voting in the last election, raising questions about just how democratically MPs and MLAs have been elected.
What was really significant about the story was that the guys were able to uncover it within a number of hours. One member of Team Qluso, an ex investigative journalist, was astounded, calling Scraperwiki a “gamechanger” for the industry. It was an almost historical event, seeing technology transform a small but significant part of the industry: the process of finding and analyzing data. (A process that, according to said gobsmacked Team Qluso member, used to take days, weeks, even months).
If you get a chance to chat with the Scraperwiki team, take it
with both hands: these guys are building some cracking tools for
Finally, from the Scraperwiki town, a big thank you to the McKeown family for all their hospitality in Belfast!