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[13 Nov 2012 | 335 Comments]

Cristiano Betta has written a post about a subject I have also given a lot of thought about over the years.

http://cristianobetta.com/blog/2012/11/12/hacks-products-a-discussion-on-responsibility/

Who should be responsible for products after a hack event. He has also asked for a discussion on the subject so here are my thoughts. I basically come to the conclusion that the event organisers should set the expectation that ‘no viable product will be created’ but it is a great opportunity to learnt how technology ‘could’ be used to achieve a certain goal. and here are my reasons thoughts.

People don't understand that software is difficult and expensive

Anyone who has tried to make a software product knows it is very hard and expensive. It is not just having software that is important, you need support, sales, marketing, testing, training, bug fixing. I would say that having software is probably only about 30% of a software business. People should understand this before getting excited when they see a nice looking webpage.

Strong products can come out of these events, Charity Hack has seen a couple of successes (https://www.givey.com/ and http://www.positivebid.com/ also see this article about the Positive Bid story http://www.women2.com/starting-a-startup-at-charity-hack-in-london/ ). What these 2 services have in common is the substantial amount of money and time + other resources invested after the event to make it happen. Both of these company's took about a year to release something in the wild after the event.

One approach to address this which identifies this problem which I really liked was at last years http://www.givecamp.org.uk/ where one of the projects was to create an on-going open source product: http://www.givecrm.org.uk/. From the start it was designed as an open source project which will be worked on and added to at future Hack events. Essentially running it like a proper development project.

Configuration over development

Other things I have observed is the massive value charities can get from a techie setting something like Eventbrite up for them. Configure an existing product for a nicer website or integrating a YouTube channel to provide more interesting content. We techies forget how much we know that other’s don’t. We can provide value by just doing the things we think are obvious and easy.

Hack Event  = Idea melting pot

The other event that I’ve attended is www.dev4good.net. This is similar to Charity Hack and is a very free flowing event where you can drop in and out of the various teams to help push alone ideas and add value where you can. For me this is what hack events are all about, trying stuff out. Techies can try out new technologies under the guidance of others what know what they are doing, charities can get a feel for what can be technically achieved and there is no expectation that support will be on-going after the event for anything developed.

Summary

Event organisers should make it absolutely clear that there is little to no chance that a viable product will come out of 48 hours of work. Ideas can be tested and validated or dismissed, people can learn new tech but if anyone is expecting to bring something to market, they need to have a pile of cash and a business plan in place to make it happen.