Techies learn, make, win at Foundation's first San Francisco hackathon

Participants at the San Francisco hackathon in 2012
Participants at the San Francisco hackathon in January 2012

In January, 92 participants gathered in San Francisco to learn about Wikimedia technology and to build things in our first Bay Area hackathon.
After a kickoff speech by Foundation VP of Engineering Erik Möller (video), we led tutorials on the MediaWiki web API, customizing wikis with JavaScript user scripts and Gadgets, and building the Wikipedia Android app.  (We recorded each training; click those links for how-to guides and videos.)  We asked the participants to self-organize into teams and work on projects.  After their demonstration showcase, judges awarded a few prizes to the best demos.
First prize: SMSpedia, an SMS and text-to-speech application in which the user texts a page title to a phone number, then is called up by the service and read the Wikipedia entry aloud. Team members Judy Tuan, Neil Kandalgaonkar, and Romy Ilano will each get travel and accommodation to a Wikimedia event of their choice, such as Wikimania. The judges (Leslie Carr, Roan Kattouw, and Brion Vibber) appreciated the design thinking that went into this project, which gives owners of non-smart phones (“featurephones”) a more intuitive and usable way to access Wikipedia content, without needing broadband. If you watch the showcase video, you’ll hear the burst of spontaneous applause from the crowd when that synthesized speech started talking on Judy’s phone. Roan raved, “It was an awesome idea, it was completed, and … it did something in a new and different way that would promote access.” Brion added that he liked the team’s “impactful demo.”
Second prize (Wikipedia shoulder bags) went to a widget to visualize article quality. It is a cool tool for something whipped up over a weekend! Congratulations to the team of Ben Plowman, Mahmoud Hashemi, Sarah Nahm, and Stephen LaPorte.
A Foundation staffer and new participants collaborate at the hackathon
A Foundation staffer and new participants collaborate at the hackathon

Honorable mentions:

Many hackathon participants were completely new to Wikimedia technologies.  Our experiences working with and ramping up new contributors led to useful text and video documentation that we’re already reusing — for example, Ryan Lane’s talk explaining Wikimedia Labs.
And in between mentoring newbies on Gadgets, mobile, and the API, developers in the room made other strides.  WMF’s Leslie Carr and volunteer Ryan Anderson improved our Puppet infrastructure.  WMF’s Roan Kattouw and volunteer Rusty Burchfield fixed issues in our upcoming migration from Subversion to Git, specifically smoothing our future code review workflow with git-review.  And the operations team worked with new volunteer Abe Music to fix issues in our UDP log and SSL servers.
Mixed in with the hacking and collaboration, attendees enjoyed free food, a few social mixers, and the traditional free t-shirt.  Thanks to Rachel Farrand, Dana Isokawa, and many other Wikimedia Foundation colleagues and fellow Wikimedia community members for organizing and peopling the event with me, and thanks to pariSoma for providing the venue!
Our next developers’ event is a hackathon in Pune, India February 10-12 concentrating on internationalization, localization, and mobile work, and the Foundation’s Ryan Lane will be speaking in Palo Alto on February 27th on “How does Wikipedia Work?”  To find out about other upcoming Wikimedia technical events, check the meetings wiki page, and follow @MediaWikiMeet on or Twitter.
Sumana Harihareswara
Volunteer Development Coordinator
Wikimedia Foundation

Group photo from San Francisco hackathon January 2012
Group photo from San Francisco hackathon January 2012, at pariSoma

Archive notice: This is an archived post from, and as such was written under a different editorial standard than Diff.