Culture Hack East….

To be honest the day didn’t bode well.

I am very much a soft commuter. The 0723 train in the pouring rain is definitely not my cup of tea. In fact at 0723 I’m more likely to be found murmuring to my pillow ‘it’s not time to wake up – leave me alone’. Needless to say I’m in a grump! No wonder then that three hours later as a cab takes me to the glamorous surroundings of the Anglia Ruskin University I’m to be found musing ‘this could be a dreadful waste of time’. When I (and four other delegates) find themselves lost in the corridors of this particular palace of knowledge (where classrooms are labs) I was almost certain it was.

But I was wrong.

I did coast through the first couple of sessions scribbling the odd note in-between checking my e mails. Then came the metaphor (@harryharrold ‘s metaphor to be exact) – this data hacking malarkey is all about bees. You kind have had to be there – but I will post the slides here when they become available.

Suddenly it clicked that this was about geeky people doing interesting and potentially useful, experimental things with data that I and others might provide. May be it was a good thing these classrooms were called labs after all. The arts orgs taking part (with their data sets) were the pollen and the techies were the bees – buzzing around taking what they wanted to making their honey.


He mentioned a TED talk – this one to be precise (thanks to @patnethercoat for the link)

If you need an example of why visualisations of data are important this is a good place to start – mind so is the work of Danny Dorling who appeared at last year’s Interrogate Festival at Dartington (the festival returns this year – last year’s theme of inequality giving way to happiness). Here he is talking to #occupyLondon

Harold also mentioned some other interesting stuff too. The hack the government day on April 21 (now involving the government – see here), Jeni Tennison (see here) – and another woman whose name he couldn’t remember (and I bet she was buzzing too!)

So now I get it. You take one dark room. Throw in some arty folk with memory sticks packed full of data (in CSV format – very important that!) together with the hackers and let the magic happen. As the Hack the Govt day puts it it’s all about having free rein, doing whatever you fancy and showing it at the end to an audience of interested peoples. At least that’s the theory. In the East it’s all due to take place over the weekend of June 16 and 17th –and you can find out more information here.

So what might be on my memory stick?

Needless to say the delegates (or should I say pollinates) were encouraged to think about what data might be brought to the weekend. The ideas were as disparate as the organisations who were present (by the end even metadata [standardised of course] was beginning to sound pretty funky!)

Given its Eastern Angles 30th anniversary I’m thinking of data which tracks our history as an organisation. (@katybeale described data as stories – Hans Rosling data is presented in such a simple, visual way it tells a powerful story).

So at the top level you get year / production / director / writer / cast. Dig a little deeper and you can start looking for each production (as far as records are easily available) of where in East Anglia (postcode) it played and audience numbers. Some interesting stories there as the touring schedule has grown, expanded and audiences increased. And might there be a place for audience generated content (the EA audience are a fiercely loyal bunch). Pictures, videos, stories – anything that has been uploaded to the web could be tagged and listed.

Is that an interesting data set? Love to know your thoughts

Useful versus Pretty

Regardless of whether it’s interesting or not it begs the question is it useful? I’m going to neatly side step that question. Harold quoted the ‘Lord of the Web’ Tim Berners Lee ‘it is the unexpected reuse of information which is the value added by the web’. Here is Tim Berners Lee’s TED talk on open data (thanks to @charleyramm for the link)

I like the idea of going into that dark room and not knowing what the hell might come out the other end. It might be nothing (the wonderfully titled ‘abandonware’ is a natural off shoot of a hack) – but I’m pretty sure I’ll have learnt something useful in the process. Specifying what I want as a result seems to defeat the point of what is essentially an experiment, an opportunity to play, to find the unexpected.

Open or closed

Not surprisingly the question of the security and ownership of data ran through the day. Whilst #culturehackeast is clearly going to focus on easily accessible ‘open’ data. By its very nature though I suspect a hack is also about getting data which ought to be open into the public domain (one example used was the location of publically accessible toilets). Once again the responsibilities of bodies in receipt of public funding came up (in how accessible both their data and content is).

@noeL-maS (aka Sam Leon) of Open Knowledge Foundation recommended two useful texts in his presentation– the New Renaissance Report which is here and the intriguingly titled Problem of the Yellow Milk Maid which you can read here – (its sub titled A Business Model Perspective on Open Metadata just in case you were wondering)

Key words of the day here though were collaboration and ‘if you can’t do it that way lets solve the problem another way’. Talking of phrases I also enjoyed @flossieteacake ‘s ‘escaping the binding’ which is defined as ‘getting away from content considered as pieces bound together in a print copy and back to each item’s intrinsic value’. Follow her project ‘Re-imagining the Literary Essay in the Digital Age’ on the ACE/BBC collaboration #thespacearts.

Other interesting links and resources

Follow the conversation on #culturehackeast
Guardian Culture Pro article on data
@charleyramm ‘s blog from the event (much more practical than mine!)
Culture Hack Scotland projects
#thespacearts – (which launched today)
Open Shakespeare
The Annotator
Public Domain Calculators (for finding out if a work is out of copyright)
(last 5 links nominated by @noeL-maS)

Should be an interesting process – watch this space!


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