The Art of Tech: Zero1 Festival App to Capture the Crowd

Zero1 App to Capture the CrowdBy Michael DeLong, Managing Editor

Nonprofit arts organization Zero1 needed a way to help people make sense of its biennial, Seeking Silicon Valley, scheduled for September 2012.

Spread over three months and more than twice as many cities, the festival presents a big challenge with respect to keeping visitors engaged and informed.

To tackle the challenge, Zero1 decided to create an app. As recently noted by Frank Barry of Blackbaud, technology plays a key role in audience engagement for the arts and culture sector. For Zero1, an organization whose mission is at the intersection of art and technology, a tech-based approach to this problem makes perfect sense.

A community comes together

With that in mind, Zero1’s community engagement manager Danielle Siembieda-Gribben organized HackFlux: a weekend hackathon bringing together a mix of coders, developers, designers, artists, and thinkers this past June. The goals of the hackathon were twofold:

  1. To build a community around mobile development and art
  2. To have in place the starting point for an app to create a seamless visitor experience at the biennial

Flexing her background in community organizing — Siembieda-Gribben spent years working for ACORN — she structured the hackathon to maximize learning and shared knowledge. A Tech Advisory Committee of nine Bay Area technologists such as Kollective Mobile CEO Sian Morson mentored the teams.

A core group of interns assembled by Siembieda-Gribben will go on to develop the winning team’s idea, using an API designed by Lift Projects for Zero1.

The teams get to work

The participants gathered at TheGlint, a live-work community aimed at accelerating the creation of value through design, philosophy, the arts, technology, and entrepreneurship — all set atop Twin Peaks backed by a stunning view of the Bay.

For 48 hours, four teams brainstormed, tinkered, designed, and revised, culminating in a presentation for a hand-selected jury. Including tech experts such asAngelHack founder Greg Gopman, Michael Shiloh of DorkBot San Francisco and the Exploratorium, and TheGlint co-founder Alexandros Pagidas, the jury picked the winning idea based on set criteria. The app should

  • be accessible to the widest possible audience
  • be feasible to create, sustain, and maintain with the resources provided
  • have a strong concept demonstrating creativity and innovation

Additionally, each team needed to provide a clear plan for the execution of the app by the end of summer.

Zero1 HackFlux WeekendA winner emerges

The four teams brought excellent ideas to the table, impressing both the crowd and the jury. Proposals included fun geocaching activities to draw attendees into deeper engagement with the biennial; informative, interactive maps; and a personalized, art-enhanced experience to alleviate the stress of festival parking.

A remarkable part of the judging portion of the event – and of the hackathon overall – was the collaborative energy sparked among the teams. As one team presented, others offered on-the-spot suggestions. The feeling was one of cooperation rather than competition.

In the end, one team’s idea did stand out to the jury. Team Reactor, composed of Kelsey Innis, Anna Billstrom, and Helen Mair, proposed an app to crowdsource reactions to the festival artwork in the form of voice, text, and drawings.

Called The Reaction Trader, the app will allow festival-goers to trade anonymous reactions to nearby art (the response mechanism remains locked until the viewer is within range). It will also allow attendees to vote up specific reactions, creating a leaderboard of top responses.

There was some debate around the wisdom of allowing for anonymous comments — the fine line between candor and a race to the bottom — but the winners have the rest of the summer to work it out with the core team.

Don’t miss Zero1’s biennial this September to December and let us know in the comments how your organization has used technology to engage its audiences.

Interested in putting together your own hackathon? Check out NetSquared’s tips for creating a successful app-for-good event by Vanessa Rhinesmith.

A version of this post appeared on the TechSoup blog.