The only things I have missed during my half year in Buenos Aires, apart from my friends, have been fresh air, sourdough bread and Iranian food. But lately I have also felt I need something here like the crowd around Sweden Social Web Camp. We are all about the internet – but the internet is also local, with local interests, challenges and trends. Also, the internet is not so great at kicking back together with a few cold beers.
Martin Sarsale tweeted before the meeting (in my translation from Spanish):
”Hey, we need more programmers for @HacksHackersBA; we’re unbalanced in favour of those who write for humans!”
But counting the backpacks and t-shirts with ironic and/or free software print, it looked like the majority of the 150 or so people present were the kind that write for machines.
Since I am a technical idiot, I have missed or probably misunderstood great deal of the speeches (especially that they were in Spanish, which I only almost speak). Tell me and I’ll correct all I can.
Several of the speakers were talking of how to write programs to make journalism out of huge amounts of raw data. Such as Martin Sarsale‘s program to extract and map all the physical adresses, along with some context, from thousands of pages of court files dealing with people who were kidnapped and killed during the military dictatorship in Argentina.
I can imagine the program being used by the local reporters at my usual workplace Sydsvenskan. For example to map all declined and approved building permits in the municipalities we cover. Or to map the frequency with which people have moved in and out of different areas in Malmö during, say, a year. That would need a time variable, but I guess that’s not a problem for smart guys.
Maps featured in Cesar Miquel‘s speech too, on some ways to use drupal to autotag and extract news from certain areas, make statistics out of them and map them in real time. Haiti Aid Map is one example. I think Sydsvenskan has made tests with something similar, making maps the starting point for navigating our news. Whatever happened with that? Right now I can only find where they shot at, a regular Google map with links to articles about the frequent shootings in Malmö. And there is some testing going on with Ushahidi’s open platform for mapping crowdsourced reports, but it seems to be down at this moment. Check out cool use of Ushahidi by the BBC and the Washington Post, it comes through although it’s not working anymore.
Back to the meetup: the guys who got the Argentinian Wikileaks cables, journalist Santiago O’Donnell and a programmer for whom I need the name, showed the search engine which they built on Lucene to make their way through the mountain of Excel files they received. Santiago was jumping impatiently up and down while his colleague was showing the search: ”click the ‘boost’ button, it’s the BEST!”. That button sorts the search results in order of confidentiality, if I got it right. Neat.
Manuel Aristarán showed the site public expenses of Bahía, which contains exactly that – ALL of it. ”What is your money used for?” it says at the top. Then how much the city has spent so far this year (30 261 012, 64 pesos as we speak), the five units that spent the most, the top ten providers, expenses over time, and then a list of ALL the expenses, expandable to see details. I didn’t realize the magnitude of this until now. Sydsvenskan people, can we work with this guy? Also, he has built an applausometer, he never took off his backpack during his speech and he builds everything on free software. When I tweeted that he used python, django and scrapy, a friend in Montevideo from outside the internet replied: ”hey some friends of mine built scrapy!”
For the next meetup (which I will unfortunately miss) I would wish for:
- More social/crowdsourcing ideas. Mariano Blejman showed some great examples in his opening speech, but it would be good to get the closer ”this how we dunnit” report.
- Speakers of more than one gender. For example from among the several of the ”tech evangelists” among the visitors, such as Flor Coelho from La Nacion. It might be interesting for both journalists and programmers to know what they see ahead.
- More room in the schedual for networking, cause there was a lot of cool people and only half of them fit in the pizzeria afterwards.
Since I have already been exposed as a whiner by Mario Blejman, I also want to be very clear with what I think is obvious: this was a really, really great event. I hope I can follow the next one on Bambuser.
The next meetup will be Bambused here.
Mariano Blejman has blogged in more detail about the projects, in English.