Launch of Hacks/Hackers Philly

Thank you to everyone who came out to the first Hacks/Hackers Philly meetup! Over 30 people attended, and according to the sign-in sheet the hack/hacker distribution was roughly half/half. Great to see a mix of backgrounds and interests.

As promised, this blog post will give a recap of the meeting and describe our immediate next steps. We began the meeting with an overview of why we wanted to start a chapter, and then discussed what topics and meeting types would be of interest to everyone. Right away we even discussed a tool, Google Refine, that was new to some of us, and at least for me, was immediately useful to my work.

Why do we want to start a chapter of Hacks/Hackers?

Two years ago, people interested in both journalism and technology started Hacks/Hackers. Since then, chapters have started in cities all over the world where journalists and techies know they have a lot to learn from and teach one another. Philly has companies doing amazing work in technology and in journalism, which is a great starting point to help those groups work together more in our city.

Also, we wanted to create a space where people with a variety of skill levels and backgrounds feel comfortable. It can be intimidating to go to a meetup for a topic targeted at a single group. We hope this organization can appeal to people from the tech and journalism camps, people in between the two, and any other interested observers.

Increasingly, news organizations are understanding the need to bring developers directly into the content creation process. News outlets like the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica have teams devoted to developing news apps and they publicly share their work. Projects like OpenDataPhilly are helping increase access to data. Journalists need help sorting through that data and displaying it in an accessible way. Many of the projects funded by the Knight News Challenge (which requires its projects to be open source) are focused on how to better handle data. The foundation recently announced it will hold three grant cycles a year because "the innovation cycle is so short."

Why Philly?

Philadelphia is already showing the possibilities of collaboration across fields. A group of partners from several sectors, Azavea, the City of Philadelphia's Office of Technology, NPower PA, Technically PhillyWHYY, and the William Penn Foundation, supports OpenDataPhilly. The Enterprise Reporting Fund gave $5,000 grants to projects between old school and new media journalists and nonprofits. For the second year, Philly will be a Code For America city, and the first year fellows' project is seeking to engage community members in civic action.

Innovation is already happening here. We are showing what is possible through collaboration, and the city and major foundations are supportive of this work. The Philly chapter of the Online News Association is also providing a space for journalists to gather and learn from one another about some of those projects, including WHYY's NewsWorks and the Philadelphia Media Network's tablet initiative.

I will be writing more about the specific projects that are happening in Philly, what we can learn from other cities, and other possibilities for funding and collaboration. 

What next?

  • Resource guide. There's a lot of jargon that both hacks and hackers use in their respective spaces. Several people expressed interest in a resource guide to help bridge the vocab gaps, and share already existing tools. I will soon start a wiki and will be gathering resources from existing Hacks/Hackers chapters and other sources. Please feel free to add to it or ask questions!

  • Communication.​ In addition to the Meetup page, I started a mailing list. We also have a Twitter account, which we'll use to publicize events and share tips and tools of interest. And of course, has a great blog where we will cross-post updates.

  • Skillsharing and project development.​ Beyond a resource guide, we plan to have in-person explanations of tools and resources. Working together on projects is also a great way to learn and teach. We plan for our next meeting to blend both of these approaches. On November 15, we'll spend half the time on short talks about tools for dealing with data such as Google Fusion Tables. Then, we'll brainstorm data-oriented projects that small teams can work on, with an eye to developing the projects at a Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon in early December.

Thanks again to everyone who came to the first meetup and who is interested in the group.

We appreciate your help in creating a welcoming space where people at a variety of skill levels can feel comfortable and able to contribute. After our meetup in November, we are tentatively planning a social event in December, and then another regular meetup in January. We're really encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm in the group, and please keep in touch if you have any questions or suggestions. 

Hope to see you at the next Hacks/Hackers Philly meetup November 15 at the Municipal Services Building from 6:30-8:30 p.m. or, before that, November 2 at ONA Philly's meetup at the Inquirer building.