A “Britain’s Got Talent” style online audio competition to read text aloud and a search engine which finds books when seekers can only remember brief details about the cover or plot, were among the category winners at the industry’s first hackathon FutureBook Hack this weekend (14th/15th June, Live Blog here).
Tech producer Matthew Cashmore of Blackwell's said that in 10 years of running hack days he hadn’t "sat through such consistently good ideas as I’ve seen today” at the event, run by The Bookseller at University College London.
Nearly 100 hackers took part in the weekend event, many working through Saturday night to deliver projects, set to address challenges set by publishers, by the Sunday deadline.
Winning in the use of data category was project “My Book Is Better Than Yours”, from Hot Key's Sara O'Connor, a data visualisation of the bestseller lists, with the biggest jacket reflecting the biggest sales, variable by country or region, and the potential to include a shadow tail to indicate sales history.
In the audio category, the winner was “Voices”, from Diamond Braganza, aimed at connecting people with audio by encouraging them to perform text-reading mini-competitions online, rated by their peers.
In the curation and discovery category, there were two winners: “Book Monster”, from a team led by Ekaete Inyang, a specialist search engine aimed at helping those who saw an ad for a book, or heard a piece about it, but can’t remember the title or author; and “Literograph”, from a team led by Philip Connor, a web-based service hosting book lists, with a widget to sit on relevant news stories, so that readers interested in the story can link through to books on the subject and a means of buying them.
In the category of best use of print assets, the winner was “Black Book”, with Tim Brooke as team leader, described as an adult pop-up book which puts the digital into the physical world.
Highly commended were projects “6 Degrees”, which traces the books the authors you like choose to read, and the links between them; “Tinder for Books”, which offers snippets of text to tempt you before showing you the book jacket, so you judge it on its inside merits rather than its superficial good looks; “Mood Nights”, which enables children's stories to be read in different ways according to whether they want to be amused or frightened; and “Book Signal”, which enables people to read books together or to one another online.
Mentor and judge Henry Volans, head of digital publishing at Faber, said: “What stands out for me is the dedication of those doing the hackathon because they really want to and have genuine interest. What they’ve come up with is consistently strong and interesting.”
Gus Swan, digital technology director at HarperCollins, also a mentor and a judge for the events, said: ”I’m highly impressed with the work and how people here have been able to come together and generate these ideas in a short space of time. And by the variety – they’ve come up with lots of different ideas.”
He added: “It was also about making contacts, and I spent longer here than I had planned. As well as the projects, there are other conversations we can potentially take forward. Hacks that are done well have a relaxed team atmosphere, and that was the case here – it was very friendly. And it was enjoyable to judge.”
WME m.d. Simon Trewin, also a mentor and judge, and the initial proposer of the publishing hackathon, said : “It’s wonderful to have so many women hackers here, and also a diversity of origin. These guys, who have given up their weekend, they’re not just in it for the money, it’s because they genuinely think they have something to bring to the table. I’m also encouraged by how little drop-off in numbers there were over the weekend. If we do it next year – which we must – we’ll probably get 200 people here.”
Cashmore said: “I’ve been running hack days for 10 years. I haven’t sat through such consistently good ideas as I’ve seen today in that decade,” telling the hackers who had presented projects: “You’re all winners.”
Hacker Kirsten Lawton, who had no previous experience of the publishing world, said she had found publishers had been “very helpful” in aiding the development of her audio project “Prue” over the weekend. Fellow hacker Louisa Mallouri, equally new to the industry, said it had been “really inspiring talking to the mentors who were able to contextualise the projects”. However James Lethem, a marketing analyst and hacker, said he would have liked still more clarity as to what publishers were looking for in the projects submitted.
The winner of FutureBook Hack’s overall £5,000 award will be revealed on Thursday (19th June).