Sea Change

So, there was this whole series of cultural shifts around hacker and maker spaces from about 2005 to now1. In America, people were realizing that they could work together. Then that they could pool resources and form spaces. Then that other spaces existed. Now, how we can link spaces together and how to help make more. Next will be what to turn them into. I vote schools. More on that another time.

A similar thing is happening with hackathon / app contest / civic engagement culture right now. Hackathons have been around for a long time, but more recently there have been a greater quantity in rapid succession. Another knee. Why? Tools are more accessible, people want to create something useful, but also because it’s a powerful motivator to be in something so engaging as OpenGov. Again, at first, it was “hey, other people are doing this?” Then “I want to do that!” and now, most of the discussions at OpenGovWest11 was about how to do it better. How do we make the things that hobby-ists are building sustainable, robust, and most of all – impactful2.

There are a few ideas. Beyond just the excitement of continued work, and post-geographical ideals of traveling to where the awesome is, we can also encourage people to maintain, improve, and build upon what already exists instead of just creating the new. It’s like maker ethics of Fix What You’ve Got brought to the hacker ethic of I Will Build It Better. So… how do we encourage a culture of maintenence while continuing to uphold a culture of innovation?

 
Hard question, but we have a few ideas.

Things like GameSave are a start with a format of long-running competition with an intense work weekend and the goal of the program being funding for full development.
This has also been done with things like the X Prize and other such things, but rarely quite so grassroots.

We can also start to look at progress between two phases made during a hackathon style competition instead of just how far from the startline someone is.
I think we should also give awards based on adaptation of or improvement on existing tools, or just the research time needed to discover that you don’t actually need the thing you were going to build.
Continued incentives and interest in further building of tools

We have to maintain and encourage the long term agility and mythos of our ideals to continue this sea change instead of just being co-opted and burning out. We can’t just use the scientific method in testing and building the tools we use because that almost guarantees failure.

1. Well of course it’s always been a cultural change. Outside the norm. Etc etc. I’m talking here about the knee of the curve, mostly sparked by the 2007 Chaos Computer Camp.
2. Yes that’s a word shut up