The 2:AM hack day

This is a guest post contributed by Shane Preece, Developer at Altmetric.

A hack day is when a group of people, who rarely or never get to work together, have some interest in common and can spend a day tackling a problem. On the best days, real developers get matched with real users, and then they build something together.

These quick prototypes are usually made open source, or at least publicly visible. From there the work can be built on if enough enthusiasm can be drummed up.

At the 2:AM hackday, we ended up with two projects. (A third was started, though unfortunately they had to leave before completion.)

The first was a tool heavily based on the past work of Manos Tsagkias, who gave us the code to generate music recommendations based on a set of Twitter data. In our case though, we made some tweaks to work with academic outputs. Given all the tweets of the people you follow on Twitter, we took all the links to articles and decided which articles you’d be most interested in reading – anything that slipped through your social networking cracks. “Most interested” boiled down to “which articles were talked about the most”, but any number of interesting metrics could be added.

The promise of this tool is that it’ll help you find media you should be reading based on your own selection of experts, rather than anything pushed into the mainstream based solely on the Matthew’s Effect.

The second tool showed off the recent initiative by Mozilla: open badges. This project was demonstrated by Todd Carter. These are badges, similar to the work of Amy Brand and Liz Allen, which show off the role of the each “author” of a paper. Data scientists can be labeled as such, and the supervisor, key researcher, finance manager are clearly identified too. People trying to make a name for themselves in a particular field will find it easier now that they can label themselves.


Both tools are prototypes in the strictest terms – a lot of the functionality is hardcoded. The twitter project doesn’t actually call out to Twitter just yet – it’s just a hardcoded list of my followers! But the promise of the hack day tools is available for anyone to pick up and run with.

Meanwhile, there was an R workshop going on next door, for those who were interested in learning the basics of a programming language designed for statistics. This is what surprised me to the most: many people with very little technical background were sitting down for a day of quite technical work. It goes to show that there are many more areas than just “computer science” where knowing how to write software is useful.

Everyone left the day with a new skill, hopefully. And they definitely left with a bunch of new friends.

You can find all of the outputs of the day on the Github: 2AM-hack.

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