Hacking for Charity

Monday, September 20th, 2010

This past weekend I went to my first hack weekend, specifically Charity Hack. at the paypal offices in Richmond. I have been working on a charity project these last few months, and the developers suggested I go. Design had been sorely lacking from some of the projects last year.  This year, they proactively invited more designers and by the final results, you could definitely tell.

The whole idea

You have 24 hours to come up with a concept (and hopefully a working version) of tools that help charities engage with their customers, raise money and more. They brought in Mission Fish and Just Giving who had brand new apis you could use. And, of course, Paypal has a multitude of tools, including micropayments that make getting the money together safer and easier.  It was great to have the actually developers who wrote the apis sitting right there with you.

We were stationed at the Paypal offices and were buried in copious amounts of food and drink (Thanks so much to organizers and helpers Lorenza @johnxcom @anthonyxcom @amanda Deb Musaab and Corrado… you made the whole experience so smooth and wonderful!).  Everything was informal: you could do anything you like, you could change your team anytime up to 9am the morning everyone presented.  Teams were limited to 4 and your final presentation was 3 minutes.

My team

I was lucky enough to be asked to come, so finding a team was no problem.  Here’s our team:

1. Michael Heap, a brilliant developer and problem solver.  If I came up with anything, he always said sure.  And he did it. Definitely the hero of the group!

2. Todd Francis, likewise brilliant developer.  After some frustrations trying to get complicated apis working, really cleaned up getting the scenarios and database logic working really well.

3. Carolynlyn, an ideas lady who researched out some great scenarios and found some great apis and resources for the team to use.

4. Me, who did the design and html/css and basically badgered the two devs constantly to implement changes (I should have said yes to being involved in version control so I didn’t have to wait for Michael or Todd to go use the toilet so I could steal their machines).

We were up until almost 3am and got to about 80% finished.  From all the redbull I drank, unfortunately, I was unable to sleep.  I got back up at 6am and found many of the other teams hadn’t bothered with the sleeping bit.  I spent my time cleaning up the designs and adding in dummy facebook/twitter integration. The team was up again at 7:30, and we worked pretty much solid until cut-off time at 1:30pm.  Around mid morning, deliriousness set in.  The last 20% truly takes the most time! Of course, it’s still not perfect!

Our idea

Very Hard Choices homepage: You can only use it with Facebook

We wanted to find a way of engaging the younger audiences and make the woes of charities feel more personal.  So we created an integrated facebook Choose Your Own Adventure game called Very Hard Choices (you can actually play it now).  The idea is that you become homeless, and your girlfriend/boyfriend are there, and a few of your friends are too.

Your friend asks if you boyfriend/girlfriend had hurt you. Eventually we want the head on the main image to be yours and your friend's too.

You go through the adventure, making hard choices that people face on the street.  Eventually you either make it off the street or die.  We then explain that homelessness is no game and prompt them to make a donation to a homelessness charity and share your survival rate on twitter or facebook.

We pull in their birthday if they've displayed it on the facebook page to show a proper gravestone. We then give them options to share their survival rate and donate to the charity.

We really enjoyed testing our own app even, which I think says a lot for its stickiness: we wanted to know the fastest way to die, and to figure out all the ways to the end point.  Everyone who tried our adventure game loved that it was personalized and it was great fun to build!

The hack day is done…

There’s only so much you can do in 24 hours, and I especially want to thank the two devs who not only had amazing ideas, but also performed miracles in getting this up and working.  We’ve set up a proper backend so we can add in new stories, new loops and lots more (there were only so many story lines we could finish up in the time we had).  It is also easy to add in other types of stories for different types of charities.

Here is an example of a few other ideas we had for story lines. The choices are endless really.

And the winner is….

Not us, unfortunately. We’re very pleased with our efforts and while we would have liked to win, I’m not too disappointed (honestly!  Even with my hugely competitive ego!).  There were so many good ideas, and I do believe CharityBox (where you give affiliate money from vouchers to charities instead of the affiliates) was the best hack and deserved to win.

All the winners had great hacks too: people really made a big effort to make their projects amazing (and hilarious, including CharityShock, where you could shock someone by donating money, as well as BlessTheWeb where you can confess your sins and repent with money).

Another non-winner I really liked was Pitchinin, which gave artists the opportunity to give away a song to their fans in return for donating to a charity.  So, if I had a song, I could say that if you raised £1000, it would be unlocked for everyone who has donated.  I enjoyed talking to @kzhu about his plans for it, so I hope he gets the development funds in to make it happen.

Many of the people I spoke to said that they really wanted to continue building on their projects and get them to proper production quality.  There was so much condensed passion and enthusiasm in that room (probably fueled by all the wonderful free food and drink provided by Paypal), but I’m looking forward to see what people actually do. I know we want to continue working on our project, so watch this space.

I know it’s cheesy, but I’m going to say it: I feel like I won anyway, knowing that we had a great idea, it was well implemented and useful to charities.  For a first hack day, I can’t really ask for more!

Now: time to catch up on my sleep!



One comment

  1. great write up! it was awesome to have a roomful of developers coding away and def agree with the problems talking to the JG API – we finally got it cracked though with help from dave from JG, all in all a great experience and ill be going back next year

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