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News Hack 2013

Matt Shearer

Innovation Manager

Hi, I’m Matt Shearer, Innovation Manager for BBC News Labs.

On Thursday & Friday last week (17th & 18th October 2013) we held the #newsHACK, a “Hackathon” format event in Shoreditch Town Hall, London.

This was a BBC Connected Studios powered event as part of the BBC News Labs programme.

The event saw 150 people, participating in teams, from these organisations:

BBC, The Times, Financial Times, Independent, LondonLive, The Guardian, The Mirror, SKY News., Mozilla, Dennis Publishing, Lancaster University, University College London, Sheffield University, Swansea University, Newcastle University, Dundee University, plus some individual R&D participants.

At #newsHACK

These teams completed 26 hacks (prototypes), and there were winners in 7 categories, judged by an independent panel.

The Winners:

1) Best in Show Award

Presented by Robin Pembrooke (Head of News & Weather Products, BBC)

Awarded to: The Perspectivator (Financial Times).

2) Best Live & Breaking News Experience

Presented by Nic Newman (Independent Strategist, Trainer, and Product Tank Lead)

Awarded to: “Connected Storylines” by The Grads (BBC)

3) Best University Hack

Presented by Christina Scott (CIO, FT)

Awarded to: “News Drop” by Culture Labs (Newcastle University).

4) Best Visual News Experience that Scales

Presented by Jon Paolo (Head of Editorial at SKY NEWS ONLINE)

Awarded to: “Storyline” by The LatLongs (BBC Location Services)

5) Best Hack that's likely to never be launched

Presented by Peter Rippon (Editor of the BBC Online Archive)

Awarded to: “Rubix News” by “3 mins 16 secs” (The Mirror).

6) Hack that surprised us most

Presented by Anthony Sullivan (Head of Product, The Guardian)

Awarded to: “Talk News” by SKY News team (SKY)

7) Best Journalism Tool

Presented by Jon Paolo

Awarded to: “Westminster Watchdog” by The Times (Times Digital)

First team seen all wearing #newsHACK t-shirts

Links to these hacks (for as many as is possible), plus videos from the event will be published on BBC News Labs channels (see bottom of post) in coming weeks.

In Summary

We will be publishing more detail on key areas of the event and next steps in coming weeks, and until then here are some key points in brief.

There was a broad and interesting spectrum of “Hacks”:

The “Hacks”, or “prototypes”, ranged from “Talk News” a natural language speech-driven news reading prototype (from SKY team), through linked data 2nd screen and Journalist research tools (Sheffield, BBC et al), Social gamification apps (The Times) and novel CMS approaches (BBC), right through to “Rubix News” (Mirror) an innovative navigation paradigm and the “Perspectivator” (FT) to help numbers make sense to news audiences.

The format was Rapid Prototyping with Multidiscipline teams:

We saw some great rapid iterations on ideas with small, multidiscipline teams. Each team had a chance to test their ideas in audience testing on the Thursday afternoon to get some real insight. Another key element was that teams used real data sources, rather than mocked up data.

Collaboration across the News Industry:

The teams were from a broad range of News Orgs, and while they were competing for the awards, there was a great deal of collaboration, sharing and discussion between the teams from all organisations.

Great feedback for BBC R&D APIs

80% of the participating teams used the BBC “Juicer” APIs which we had prepared for the event, featuring 100s of thousands of linked data -tagged News content items including, real time new News content. We are taking feedback for how to improve these APIs for future News Industry R&D activities, and for future innovation events.

Linked Data innovation:

Of the teams that used the BBC Juicer APIs, about half used the brand new “Storyline” APIs. Their feedback is already giving us some clear next steps on the Storyline iteration, both editorially and technologically, which will help improve the utility of the open model “Storyline”.

News industry partnerships:

BBC News Labs are following up with the participating News organisations and Universities on how we can innovate further, together, with open technology and News data exploration.

An Exciting spread of Engineering:

As well as lots of software engineering taking place, we also had teams working on physical kit that they brought into #newsHACK with them; servers, handsets, and an interesting array of LEDs, sensors, projectors and more!

This is our Open Innovation Blueprint:

We believe that when you form a multidiscipline team* in a creative environment, give them problems to solve, provide audience testing & data science support, then you will be making the best use of the team’s talents. Do this with 30 teams at once, taken from across the industry and academia, then we have a real innovation hot house; collaboration, sharing, problem-solving, innovation, and all of this at an incredible pace - the savings on lagtime between disciplines, and on time invested in untested/erroneous ideas alone is massive - try quickly, build with real data, then fail or succeed quickly.

Promoting and driving this kind of open innovation is how BBC Connected Studios powers and supports the BBC News Labs programme.

If you want to find out more about these projects as they develop please follow BBC News Labs on the following channels:

BBC News Labs Twitter account

BBC News Labs on You Tube

BBC News Labs on Google+

* A “Multi-discipline team” in this scenario should cover these capabilities: Editorial/Journalist, developer, product design, design, BA, data modelling/architecture. We were recommending teams of 3-5, but up to 7 seems OK.

Matt Shearer is Innovation Manager, BBC News Labs

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