Report on the Will’s World Online Hack Event (Part 1/5) – Planning

It’s been a couple of months since the Will’s World Hack and we wanted to reflect on the process of planning and running the Hack. We’ve decided to split our thoughts into five posts which we will be sharing over the next week or so. We would love your feedback, ideas and reflections on the Hack and on our reflections here so please do leave us comments or any questions.

Why a Hack?

The idea of an online Hack event came from the need to promote the use of the Shakespeare Registry designed by the Will’s World Project. We wanted the ‘use’ of the Registry to be innovative and we thought that the ‘promotion’ should reflect this and be innovative too.  Hackathons are a common way to encourage developers and other creative people to collaborate on quick prototypes and proof of concepts based on a specific dataset or theme, and therefore was an obvious choice for increasing awareness of the Shakespeare Registry. Running the event online was the idea of the EDINA Social Media Officer as it would be innovative and allow us to experiment with a range of social media technologies.

Feasibility Study

There were obvious advantages to running an online hack such as increased flexibility and inclusion for participants, simpler logistics and reduced time scales for the organisers, and the opportunity to experiment with the use of social media technologies to support creative sharing and collaboration. We shared our thoughts on the potential pluses and minuses of holding an online hack in two blog posts: Online Hack Event and Can one desire too much of a good thing?

The project team carried out a feasibility study where we looking into the practical aspects of running an online event including suitable formats, collaboration and social media technologies, costs, publicity materials and prizes.

We also sought feedback and input on the idea of an online hack and on various aspects of the practical organisation of such an event through an online survey which was available from the 18 October 2012 to the 10 December 2012.

The survey was widely disseminated using posts on the project blog, project staff personal blogs, Google+, and Facebook presences, as well as posts on appropriate websites and mailing lists, targeted emails and Twitter.

The responses to the survey were analysed together with the direct feedback received via email, twitter etc. The results of this analysis were shared in the our post: Will’s World Online Hack Survey Results – Your Views!

We were delighted with the wide interest shown in a potential Will’s World Online Hack event but also in the general concept of running a hack event online. Many people were enthused by the idea and wished to be kept informed of outcomes of this innovative experience. In particular, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) invited us to provide a guest post for their MyShakespeare blog.

We summarised our background research into the organisation of an online hack for Will’s World Registry and how we proposed to hold the event in a feasibility report which was put forward to the project funder, JISC, for approval in November 2012. With the support from JISC and (as the Discovery Programme supporting our efforts was about to end)  less than a month to get everything in place, we set out to organise the event based on the input received.

Promotional Material

Hackathons generally provides free items or goodie bags to participants to promote the hack and it’s sponsors, act as a memento and create a sense of being part of something special. They tend to be fun, useful and tongue-in-cheek items like a mug and free coffee to enable developers to stay up through the night. We wanted to create a similar feel for our online event and put together a ‘survival pack’ to be sent to participants ahead of the event. This free goodie bag was promised to the first 50 people to register for the hack which encouraged potential participants to actively sign-up ahead of the event.

Picture of the Will's World Survival Pack

Each pack included:

  • On the useful side:
    • A list with the essential contact points for Will’s World Online Hack: Wiki, YouTube, Google+, Twitter, Emails, mailing list and blog to reinforce the channels available for communicating during the hack.
    • Post-it notes & pen to jot down ideas.
    • A USB stick to store that great new code.
    • A mug to be filled with a favourite beverage (caffeine or not?) to see participants through these hacking hours.
  • On the fun side:
    • A badge to advertise and show support for the event.
    • Ruff-making instructions to get in the Shakespeare spirit.
    • Twelfth Night cake recipe. A very appropriate and festive alternative to the traditional fuel of many hacks: pizza!
    • Some sweet treats for that sugar rush and energy boost

The pen, USB keys, mugs and badges were branded with the Will’s World project, hack event, funder and/or developer logo to promote the Shakespeare Registry and advertise the hackathon. The ruff-making instructions and recipe were a playful way to encourage creativity in a Shakespeare themed way. We also hoped it would help build some links with the participants by encouraging interaction with everyone taking part in the hackathon. This tied in with the ‘Best Setup’ prize to be awarded for people sharing their hack environment. The ruff featured in the introductory video for the Registry as well as in the example photos for hack setups, modelled by Kiwi the cat:

We had hoped to send the packs ahead of the event itself to build anticipation but unfortunately the customisation of the mugs took 2-3 weeks. This meant that the packs were only sent out a couple of days before the start of the hack. Most participants did, however, receive their pack during the week of the hack (depending of their location).


A Google form was used to create a registration page to capture information about participants including email addresses, Twitter and Skype names, skills, expertise, short biography statement and what they were looking for in the hack. We explicitly asked for consent to publish any of that information (participants could opt out though most chose to share some or all of the information they had provided) on our Meet the participants wiki page.

A total of 22 people registered which we felt was a very good outcome for this type of event, especially considering the short notice and the close proximity to the festive holiday period. It is worth noting that a few additional people also registered during the hack itself.


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