I’ve experienced a few hackathons. Some indirectly, a couple in person, and a lot from reading the follow up articles.
They’ve ranged from scientific collaboration to social innovation to hardcore coding, and in almost every case I’m astounded by the sheer amount of work that gets done (whether it’s science, brainstorming, or the code in the resulting github repos).
I’m also now realising how often I look back on an old hackathon and realise that nothing really came of it*. The output lies disused or forgotten, and there is almost inevitably a subsequent hackathon on the same topic, usually without reference or mention of the previous efforts.
This doesn’t mean the new hackathons aren’t useful – a lot of the benefit comes from being part of the event, and I’m sure those who attend go on to do good and useful things. But it seems a shame to waste the outputs, and is indeed rather surprising given the options for capturing and sharing the results (github is a great example).
I wonder if it’s the fact that hackathons bring together such a diverse collection of people, that no one in particular really owns the output – it is a product of the group, and once that group is dispersed, no one person has the time (or incentive) to pursue it further.
It would be great if hackathons were somehow tied into crowdfunding platforms – this would then provide the time and incentive for those present who were looking for a new project to continue on with the work, whilst leaving those there from existing jobs happy knowing that their input is being taken onwards.
Maybe this is happening already – if it is please let me know – and if not, well maybe there’s a startup idea there for someone 🙂
*One excellent example of a hackathon leading to substantive output is that held by Artem, Jacob, and David, three cancer researchers who produced a full scientific paper after their weekender. Kudos to them 🙂