Hubbub has gone into hibernation.

Hack days as ludic practice

It was at DiGRA that I first heard Eric Zim­mer­man talk about the idea of this being a ludic age. We’re in the peri­od that fol­lows the infor­ma­tion age, which we’ve more or less left behind. In the ludic age, says Zim­mer­man, “infor­ma­tion itself is put at play”.1

What does that mean? It can’t just be that it means we’ll get more games, and more kinds of games. That can be part of it, but there must be more to it.

I think hack­a­tons are part of this idea of infor­ma­tion put at play. A short while ago, I attend­ed what was prob­a­bly the most ambi­tious open data hack day of the Nether­lands thus far.2 Code Camp­ing Ams­ter­dam was host to almost 200 design­ers, tech­nol­o­gists and civ­il ser­vants who spent a day build­ing use­ful or oth­er­wise inter­est­ing hacks with new­ly opened up gov­ern­ment data.3

Togeth­er with Chris Eid­hof, I messed with a neat col­lec­tion of old colo­nial maps. We made an attempt at unortho­dox, play­ful dis­plays of the maps, high­light­ing their visu­al rich­ness. But we were thwart­ed by some less-than-opti­mal meta­da­ta. We did fin­ish a pro­to­type though, which shows a treemap of all the maps per half cen­tu­ry.4

The opening screen of the app, showing a treemap

The open­ing screen of the app, show­ing a treemap

Although we did not man­age to pull off a gor­geous Bloom-like data toy, or a play­ful tool for under­stand­ing like the ones Bret Vic­tor has been writ­ing about, I still feel us hack­ing away at maps is an exam­ple of activ­i­ty in the ludic age.

For starters, we spent a Sat­ur­day, for fun, attempt­ing to make some­thing that presents a gov­ern­ment data resource in an inter­est­ing way to the gen­er­al pub­lic. That is not an infor­ma­tion age activ­i­ty, we weren’t doing this for prof­it, we weren’t even doing it as part of some kind of civ­il action, we were doing it for the fun of it.

Our means of arriv­ing at the app were play­ful. We weren’t work­ing accord­ing to some indus­try-stan­dard method­ol­o­gy. We were fly­ing by the seat of our pants. I would nev­er work like that in a reg­u­lar Hub­bub project.5

Chris Eidhof and myself at Code Camping Amsterdam

Chris Eid­hof and myself at Code Camp­ing Ams­ter­dam. Pho­to by Jean-Pierre Jans.

Final­ly, this was a col­lab­o­ra­tion, but between two peo­ple who had nev­er made any­thing togeth­er before. For some­thing like that to work, for Chris and myself to work well togeth­er, I think we had to arrive at some­thing very much akin to Bernie DeKoven’s well-played game. We were hack­ing togeth­er because we both want­ed to. We were play­ing (hack­ing) hard, tak­ing it very seri­ous­ly, while at the same time aware of the not-seri­ous­ness of it all. We could fail, it would be OK. And we were mind­ful of each other’s agen­das. Of what each of us want­ed out of the game (that hack day).

So on many lev­els, even if the prod­uct ulti­mate­ly isn’t incred­i­bly play­ful, just a hum­ble iPad app (with some very pret­ty maps) our means of arriv­ing at it were a fine exam­ple of ludic prac­tice in the post-dig­i­tal age.

  1. Here’s a video of Eric’s talk at DiGRA and this is a pro­file video about some of the same ideas. []
  2. It was organ­ised by Hack de Over­heid (“Hack the Gov­ern­ment”) of which Hub­bub CTO Alper is a board mem­ber. []
  3. If you read Dutch, this is a neat arti­cle about the event pub­lished in Parool. []
  4. Chris wrote a post about his expe­ri­ence too. And here’s a post in Dutch about the app at the Open Cul­tu­ur Data blog. []
  5. There are moments in a design process where you more or less do, of course, that’s part of inven­tion, but there’s equal parts struc­ture, nor­mal­ly. []
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