Mt first hack event was Interactivism, held this weekend at LBi London and organised by FutureGov and Google. Attendees included students, grans, Google developers and accessibility evangelists. We were down in the basement with plenty of food and coffee to keep us going while rain hammered overhead. Internet Grandad was there to add some YouTube celeb glitz to the proceedings, what a star.

I was disappointed to hear that approximately 20 students who had signed up and were expected to participate, didn’t turn up. Some groups were very low on dev skills and for a hack event, a dearth of devs will determine how successful any group can be in 24 hours. Having many student drop outs meant that waitlisters could not be offered the chance to attend and make a difference. Its a sorry situation when many grans travelled from all over the country to attend, but students seemingly couldn’t be bothered to turn up. Rant over.

The people that did attend were a great bunch, so energy was high and the room was full of enthusiastic noise. The group I joined was Open Doors, the idea being to open up care homes to the community so that residents don’t feel so trapped and isolated as they often do now. The brief was very broad and so the first couple of hours were spent clarifying what care homes provided, to whom and how we could introduce some openness. Our ideas ranged from neighbourhood watch schemes, craft and diy skills exchange, food and recipe sharing and guided tours of local areas by care home residents. Unfortunately our group was a little fluid, with only three members able to attend the entire event. This meant we repeatedly spent time keeping everyone up to date, which hindered our progress a little.

Our chosen solution, Echoing, was a way for care home residents’ voices to be heard outside of their homes. Care home staff and visitors would be encouraged to record residents’ stories and anecdotes with audio, video or written accounts. These stories would be uploaded to a website and tagged with the location of where the story took place. The stories could then be accessed by the public via Google Maps pin markers from any Maps enabled device. The stories would be told and then users would be given a little information about the storyteller and the care home in which they now live. The goal being to remove the stigma of care homes and making them appear to be more welcoming and alive.

Our prototype wasn’t technically innovative, but I had fun playing about with the Maps api.  Mike Bradley supplied some useful eyesight impairment simulation glasses, which helped me realise that Maps markers are very hard to see on a mobile device when overlaid on a busy London street map. 

Our team muse, Dee from Growing Old Disgracefully, helped us research, design, test and gather content for the system. She was candid, patient and encouraging, a pleasure to work with. The real joy of our solution was hearing some stories collected by Dee from granny attendees; some funny and some heartfelt. The fact that we could quickly and easily gather such moving stories proved to us that these stories were valuable for both users and storytellers. 

Presentations at the end of day two were impressive in their range of delivery and solutions. There was some ‘am-dram’ from Go For Local, bed time stories from Milly and Jake, a live mobile app demo via webcam from Spotted and a confident tech demo of Gene Pool from a 6th former. The deserved winners were EZPZ, a back to basics, visual web browser and Spotted a network for sharing accessibility wins and failures.