Last week Verge Editor-in-Chief Nilay Patel warned readers, "You're going to see a lot of strange things." It was the second-annual Verge Hack Week, a time for the product and editorial teams to collaborate on wild ideas, play with new tools, and experiment from Vox Media's New York City headquarters.
The Hack Week playground successfully launched more than 50 projects. While some pieces used data and storytelling tools to tackle perennial issues (How Will You Die on Mars?), a few responded to recent events such as the Ashley Madison data hack, the release of Apple's diversity report, and the announcement of Google's parent company Alphabet. It was news coverage with the crazy magic of Hack Week.
The Alphabet Company Generator
Hack Week kicked off on the heels of Google co-founder Larry Page's announcement of a massive restructuring and the creation of a larger holding company called Alphabet. "We had been following Google's reorganization closely, and it was starting to feel impossible to keep all of the new companies straight," said Silicon Valley editor Casey Newton. Newton entered Hack Week with special interest in the generator tool and saw the potential in this surprising news. "I decided it would be fun to create a Google company generator with as many ridiculous ideas in it as possible—and then let readers claim to be the CEO on social media." On the first day of Hack Week, he published the Alphabet-inspired generator.
The Ashley Madison Hack
In July The Verge covered a report that Ashley Madison, a network that facilitates extramarital affairs, had been hacked. Then when the stolen data was ultimately released in mid-August, The Verge responded through the lens of Hack Week. "We decided to have a little fun with the Ashley Madison data in that context," explained Verge editorial engineer Frank Bi, who changed his original plans for Hack Week when this news broke. Along with senior editor Ross Miller, he first published a breakdown of every type of data exposed in the Ashley Madison hack with an interactive chart and a sampling of the kind of data that had been made public.
One of the major insights gleaned from the leak, they showed, was that "people like to lie about their birthdays on the internet." Bi was inspired: "In the spirit of hack week, I made a fake birthday generator, which stems from a report by the Washington Post that one in 12 users had put their birthday as Jan. 1." His random birthday generator churned out new dates "for the next time you need to provide a fake birthday."
Tech's Diversity Crisis
Deputy managing editor Thomas Ricker used Apple's just-released Equal Employment Opportunity report to develop a much-needed tech diversity scorecard. With multiple interactive charts and digestible takeaways, Ricker showed how tech's biggest companies—Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter and Intel—compare on gender and race diversity.
By breaking down his assessment into diversity in tech as well as diversity in tech leadership, he painted a picture of the major work that still needs to be done. It was a clear sign of concern for the tech industry—but a notable and timely win for Hack Week.
With out-of-the-box projects and unique ways of enhancing conversations around the news, Verge Hack Week has become a wonderful new tradition at Vox Media. For more behind-the-scenes looks and links to other projects from Verge Hack Week 2015, visit Vox Product and The Verge.