CODEX Hackathon: Connecting People with Books

Code for America, where the hackathon took place

Over the weekend, I participated in my first hackathon, called CODEX Hackathon. I had no idea what to expect; all I knew was the theme was “‘connecting’ — connecting around books, connecting readers and authors, connecting libraries.”

Things kicked off Friday night with an opening reception at Github, which has an amazing office space.


I only saw the first floor, but there was a bar, live music, plenty of room for eating and drinking, and even a foosball table. The reception was also for the concurrent ALA Conference, and it was great to meet librarians and other attendees as well as people from the hackathon.


Hackathon Day 1

Day 1 of the hackathon kicked off at 10 a.m. Although some people came in groups with specific ideas in mind, I and probably ~50 other people hadn’t yet landed an idea of what to work on. To help, we spent a couple hours doing brainstorming exercises, which ended in some great ideas such as serializing books, grouping large amounts of data, and giving people more time to read.

I ended up with a great team of people, and we created Inscribe, a multimedia annotation tool that allows people to make personal connections. The inspiration came from one of my teammate’s experiences, where her mother had annotated a copy of Le Petite Prince when she was 16, and then passed down her copy when my teammate was 16. Having this annotated book was a special connection that gave my teammate insight into her mother as a teenager, and we wanted a way to make that experience digital.

We used a number of tools, including Slack to keep each other up to date, InDesign and Photoshop to design, and React (Javascript library).

On a side note, I also learned about these handy tools:

It took us a while to figure out exactly what we wanted our tool to do, but in the end we came up with allowing people to gift ebooks, add an inscription (text or video), and annotate lines of text and images with text, images, animation, audio, or video. We used a lot of whiteboard space and post-it notes to get our ideas down.


Hackathon Day 2

Day 2 started at 9 a.m., which actually made it a lot easier to get in to the city, since the SF Pride Parade was slated to start at 10:30. My group and I actually took a quick break so we could see some of the parade, and it was great to see everyone dressed up and celebratory.


At 3 p.m., we all gathered in the main room of Code for America to present projects.


There were more than 20 projects, and Publishing Perspectives sums it up nicely at “What the Hell Happens at a Publishing Hackathon?

Some of the projects (and some of these are now live apps!) included:

  • DiscoBooks: Machine generated audio books, which actually sound pretty good. Helps solve the problem of not having enough time to read.
  • Storypost: Lets anyone share their stories around a common experience or event, such as a hackathon.
  • Glance: For speed reading.
  • HTMLStyleBookEditor: To easily stylize an ebook online.
  • Book Turtle: Helps you keep track of books you’re reading and decide which books you’re actually not going to read.
  • Mailbook: A way for authors to sell serializations of their works.
  • Goodshelf: Take a picture of the books on your physical book shelves and have them automatically added and grouped to your Goodreads account.
  • Neural Public Library (personal favorite): To quote the creators, “Neural Public Library is a library of book titles and authors generated by a recursive neural network; book cover images are found via Flickr image search.” Check out the hilarious Twitter feed @neurallibrary.
  • Forkpad: Allowing readers of Wattpad writers to fork their favorite stories and give feedback or write fan fic.
  • Boustrophedon: Being able to read forwards and backwards.
  • Instant Classic: A way to make long works shorter, via percentage. Crowdsourced.
  • Fork Kitchen: A way to fork recipes and give reasons for what people changed to make the recipes personal.

You can see all the CODEX Hackathon projects here.

After the Hackathon

Hackathons are exhausting, and a lot of participants came from out of town, some as far away as D.C., Canada, London, and Mexico City. Between the long, hard-working hours and jetlag, a lot of people were understandably tired. I was incredibly tired, and I was only coming from 20 miles away, so I can only imagine how some of the other hackathon people felt.

But Chronicle Books was at the hackathon, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of taking a tour of one of my favorite book publishers (they published All My Friends Are Dead, Boo, and If I Were a Book, to name a few).


Thoughts on Hackathons

I had a really good experience at CODEX, and I’m happy I was able to participate. I met some great people, got to talk about books all weekend, and saw some really amazing presentations of apps and websites that I would not have thought possible to create in just one weekend.

With that in mind, I think next time I go to a hackathon I’d like to have an idea going in, possibly with a team, and I’d like to roll up my sleeves and code. Since it was my first hackathon, I wanted to hang back a bit more and experience/observe the process, so I ended up doing more on the design end. But after seeing everyone’s awesome presentations, I was inspired to create my own thing.

I have a couple ideas in mind, and am hoping to see them through in the next few weeks in my free time. I think doing these types of projects will also help me become a better developer–right now I know HTML, CSS and some Javascript, but I’d really like to learn more. And hopefully I’ll hear about more book publishing related hackathons in the future.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s