I’m just now resurfacing after a mammoth run of Hack Days here in Australia. First there was the pre-govhack briefing run by Deloitte Digital. Then there was the GovHack itself up in Canberra, and finally this weekend there was MelHack run out of Lonely Planet.

Dr Nicholas GruenI made it up to Canberra for GovHack and had an incredibly inspiring time – we heard from Dr Nicholas Gruen (chair Gov Internet 2.0 task force) on the reasons Government were engaging in this area, we heard from John Allsopp (organiser) about the reasons for running the event and how he’d managed to pull it all together in just 3 weeks – seriously amazing.

I was lucky enough to be asked to deliver the keynote – I preached – I used the words piffle and tosh and I said something about this being an important inflection point in history, where we, the geeks, had for the first time the power to actually change the world – and that we can do it without throwing stools through starbucks windows (however tempting that may be). I talked about the fact the government were in the room with us giving us the data – that they were positively encouraging us to take it and use it to better inform the electorate – how bloody impressive is that? So we mustn’t sit here and play, we need to change the world.

They did it – the winners were an amazing gang who’d not met before the event but got together and built one of the most disruptive ideas I’ve ever seen… image a world in which you could easily see and understand the links between lobbying companies, companies bidding for work and government departments…. it would make government types squirm right? It did. Lobby Clue took the main prize – there were some really impressive builds from the rest of the group that you can see over on the wiki.

Pat and the gang hackingMove on a week and we’re back in Melbourne at the joint Lonely Planet / GovHack hack day – called MelHack. Phew…. first external hack day I’ve run since Over The Air in London a few months ago and I’d already forgotten how much work is involved in keeping a group of about 30 people fed, watered, inspired and cool in a building that’s air-con is playing up.

Melbourne is a cool town. It’s full of the types of people that like to go to interesting events like Trampoline. But this was the first external event I’d run here, and whilst in London I’m confident enough to stick my neck out and say we’ll comfortably get 400+ people to a hack day given the budget and space – I really wasn’t sure how it was going to fly here. We didn’t have a mass of space – we ran the event at the Lonely Planet HQ in footscray – and we certainly didn’t have a massive budget – so I concentrated on quality rather than size…. and boy did we get that. Over 50 people came through the door over the weekend and 12 ideas were presented by both staff and external devs. The quality of the people and ideas was massive.

The winners built a day trip generator using Lonely Planet POI (Point of Information) data. The application is live and working – but it does tend to struggle at the moment as it’s using the anon LP API access which is heavily throttled…. but when that’s fixed it’s stunning…. all the other ideas are listed over on the wiki – and are well worth a read and a play. The presentations are also worth a watch and they’re up on YouTube now.

I’ve been asked a lot here in Oz how you organise one of these events and if it’s only certain companies that can run them – not true. Hack Days are a lot of work, but easy enough if you think about the logistics in advance and you remember one thing above all others…. it’s all about the developers. Ross Hill took a short video interview with me talking about this very point – and if you’re interested in gettting your own hack day off the ground it might be worth a watch.