Nation’s First Publishing Hackathon – Definitely One for the Books!

“Cognitive dissonance” some might observe, a book publishing hackathon.  Not so fast .  The first ever publishing hackathon was a big deal event that led up to Book Expo America in late May where it exploded as a trend-setter for bibliophile/technophile attendees and the book community in general.

A group led by the Perseus Books Group, Librify, Book Expo, the AlleyNYC and William Morris hatched the idea.  In mid-May they invited digital designers, engineers, programmers and entrepreneurs to spend 36 hours together during which they worked in teams to develop new approaches to digital book discovery – Note: this is not discovery of digital books but using digital technology to explore the world’s literature.  Some 200 participants showed up.

Briefed by a cross-section of book publishing players participants teams set out to create apps, websites, programming or businesses that can – and likely will – play a role in “book discovery”, an adventure that potentially involves booksellers, writers, travelers, librarians, and, most important, the reading public writ large.

The innovative teams tackled the challenge from a host of creative angles.  At the end of the weekend of intense collaboration the most promising finalists were selected to pitch their solutions at Book Expo America.  There a panel of judges reviewed the results and selected recipients of some handsome monetary prizes.

Book Expo America event director Steve Rosato warmly embraced the concept saying “hosting the Publishing Hackathon finals at BEA not only brings attention to how important technology is in publishing and that tech is such an important aspect of BEA, but this also brings together venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, publishers, agents and others at Book Expo to discuss the digital future and the multitude of opportunities.”

And so it did.  Though the original lure was a single $10,000 prize, the impressed judges decided on the spot to  broaden the field.  Coming in first was the time that created “Evoke,” an approach to discovering fiction through characters.”  Team member Jill Axline explained, “A lot of what it means to love a book has to do with your relationship with a character—that’s at the core of what you describe when recommending a book to a friend.  Evoke allows readers to find new characters based on ones they already know and love.”  One critic observed that Evoke won “because it’s both plausible and totally out of left field.”

A second-place award went to Captiv created by the team from New York Public Library.  Captiv’s prototype was recognized for the best integration of library data, specifically mining Twitter posts to “bring you better book recommendations at the speed of life.”

Other finalists include Book City, a way to find books set in the place you plan to travel; Coverlist, a discovery solution focused on the joy of browsing book jackets, KooBrowser, a app for making better book recommendations based on browsing history, and LibraryAtlas, a book discovery solution based on geolocation.

HarperCollins, declaring these digital discoveries an “industry trend”, has announced a sequel.  Their BookSmart lures software developers to “unleash the book” by offering a $25,000 software competition for the “best reading/book discovery apps.”

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