When I saw ads for the DataHack a couple of months ago, I suddenly realized that events are, first and foremost, data. Nati, my business partner, and I are constantly grappling to stay on top of all our event sources:
- Facebook events
- Facebook posts
- Print such as billboards, flyers and newspapers
Also, it’s one thing to find out about an event; it’s a whole other thing to keep the information organized so that we can process it as needed. Processing is manual and includes:
- Editing (necessary around 95% of the time)
- Keeping event details up-to-date and complete
- Marking where and when events have been published
- Communicating between ourselves throughout the process
As you can imagine, the more these stages are automated and organized, the better job we can do at sharing the cultural events in Jerusalem (and then other places) with the public.
After running the idea by Nati (read about him on the homepage) to participate in the DataHack, we got a(n amazing) team together and then waited to find out if we were accepted. Which we were!
Here, let me introduce the team:
On the left is Avner Hadjadj and Ben Karpol, the programmers and both students at the Jerusalem College of Technology (aka Machon Lev). Avner won second place in the Keep It Simple Hackathon in June 2016. Next is Netanel Orbach, my co-visionary, and then Ariel Elboim, a freelance UI/UX guy with amazing interface-planning and design skills as well as, it turns out, front end development capabilities! And yes, that’s me. FYI, this picture was taken Friday morning after we presented to the first round of judges and after barely sleeping for two days.
And so it began…
The hackathon began on Wednesday afternoon. We discussed what exactly our goals were and settled on two things: On the one end, they’d build a bot that would crawl a few websites with events in Jerusalem. And on the other end, they’d build a dashboard for us – the event calendar managers – to work in.
In other words, to be clear, the end product in the hackathon was not a publicized calendar but a system where Nati and I would be able to process the events and prepare them for publishing.
The roller coaster ride
The next two days were hilarious:
But most of all they were inspiring, insightful and really exciting. Nati and I were in heaven having developers and a designer care about our problem. We had serious conversations with them about our needs and all the issues we had and foresaw.
Nati and I had given the team three lists to work with (which were edited along the way as necessary):
- A list of fields we ideally wanted from each event
- A list of functionality for the dashboard and
- A list of websites based on the developers’ criteria.
On Wednesday night, before we went home to sleep, Avner had finished setting up the bot for its first run which they’d check the following morning. I asked Avner to see the bot and although I didn’t know what I was looking at, it felt so full of potential!
Thursday afternoon we had a team meeting. Nati and I, following some tough love from our dear friend Reuven Karasik, had spent a long time rethinking how to present the project to the judges on Friday. Reuven, rightfully so, had said that our approach of showing the downsides of existing calendars, was unconvincing. Although we truly believe, based on experience and research, that there are no really excellent calendars of events out there, our claims were sounding petty.
And so we told the team how we were planning on presenting the idea instead – really focusing on the importance of having excellently organized data before being able to do anything really useful on a consistent basis with the information.
Little did we know that in this meeting Avner would also give us some news. He was told by one of the consultants in no uncertain terms that what they were trying to do – scan many websites using one bot – would not work. Period.
I just want to take a moment to say something. Avner had heard this opinion more than once leading up to the hackathon. I was even there for one of the times. On the one hand this concerned me but on the other hand I really felt like the hackathon is an opportunity to try things out for ourselves. And so when he was told yet again that his plan wouldn’t succeeded, although it was disappointing, it was actually also a relief for me. Throughout the hackathon I was fluctuating between enthusiasm and anxiety. I felt such a strong responsibility towards the team members. The idea we were working on was not a big data idea and I was worried that our team members were disappointed. I also felt like our presentation to the judges at the end had to be excellent because Avner, Ben and Ariel had chosen to be with us and had worked so hard.
And so the moment Avner gave us the news, all that pressure I was putting on myself, slipped away. (Well, for a few minutes at least.)
Despite the setback, Avner and Ben continued working on the bot, setting it up so that the event title and date as well as the link to the original page would be pulled into the dashboard. Meanwhile Ariel worked on the dashboard which excited me and Nati to no end any time we got a glimpse of it.
Nati and I went home that night for a few hours.
When I returned at 7am, this is what I found:
Until Ben suddenly popped his head up – he was sleeping on a mattress next to our work station. 🙂 🙂
Let’s take a step back for a moment
Before I tell you the end of the story, I just want to show you some more precious moments from the two-day hackathon:
The moment of not throwing up
Anyway, Friday morning Nati and I finished preparing for the presentation and we all agreed that after the intro which I would give, Avner and Ben would explain the technical sides of our project.
I was TERRIFIED. This was literally one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I knew the hackathon was chock full of geniuses but that became more and more apparent throughout the two days and I knew I was presenting a relatively simple (and half-baked) project to a group of genius judges who were going to go on to hearing about big data and machine learning throughout their hours of judgement.
I was shaking in my boots. I was trying not to throw up. I was… I was thinking about the fact that this is the chutzpa people talk about. Here I was, completely out of my element, and ready to look these accomplished people in the eye and tell them about our idea. Because we know the way event calendars currently function falls very short and needs to be revolutionized, we’ve spent years researching the topic and working in the field, and in the previous two days we took the first technical steps in the direction of creating a truly excellent events calendar.
And so I took a shallow breath, and spoke.
Here is the first slide of our presentation:
We explained our theory as to why event calendars – websites and apps – can’t work the way they’re all set up today and then Avner and Ben explained what they did. The judges asked some questions, thanked us and moved on.
The closing ceremony
The closing ceremony was really exciting. People knew they were in the finalists only during the ceremony which definitely added to the excitement. The organizers of the DataHack were so amazing and they hosted the opening and closing ceremonies really well.
Needless to say we weren’t in the finals. Avner came up to me afterwards and asked me if I was disappointed. Granted, as someone who likes winning, part of me was disappointed. But I said no because when it comes down to it I’m not disappointed at all. If anything, I’m so proud! I’m proud of myself for getting such a great team together, I’m proud that we worked together so well for two days. I’m so touched that professionals were intrigued by our “problem.” I’m so happy I have all these crazy, hilarious and intense memories from those two days.
Nati and I have a plan for the next stage of our business (you can read about it on the homepage) and working with developers and a designer on it for two days taught us a lot about our field.
And, of course, Nati and I are so grateful to Avner, Ben and Ariel for choosing to work with us. We are also grateful to the DataHack organizers and sponsors who put together an amazing experience. And now we’re moving ahead with our new business, JLMvibe, as we continue to face the events calendar challenge head-on. Wish us good luck. 🙂