In the immediate run up to, during and after the event, it's important to have a solid platform for communicating with your attendees, sponsors, volunteers, etc. Historically, the two main options have been Discord and Slack.
If you're feeling adventurous, and are confident in your I.T. infrastructure and abilities to maintain it, Rocket.Chat is also an option that has been passed around in the past.
Discord is a chat platform originally targeted at gamers. However, has recently seen an uptick in adoption by communities, especially on reddit, but recently also within tech and academic environments.
- No account creation required (if already on platform)
- Straightforward Permissions Model
- No message limit
- More reliable for pre/post-event communications
- Easier to indicate mentors/organizers etc. using roles
- No message threading
- Limited customizable features e.g. emojis
- Limitations with platform privacy e.g. mixing anonymous gamer communities with in-person hackathons
Slack is chat platform designed for corporate and enterprise use, it's been adopted by thousands both tech and other-sector companies. And has also seen widespread adoption as the platform of choice for tech events.
- Workspace specific DMs
- Users can create channels
- Message Threading
- Unlimited custom emojis
- Slackbot Keywords
- 10,000 message limit
- Requires new account per workspace
- Limited permissions model
- 10 Apps/Bots per workspace limit
Note: If using slack, make sure to disable public email and phone number listings within the workspace
Firebase also works pretty well if you don't want to maintain any infrastructure, but can be limiting as it adopts a serverless model. It's also worth noting, Google's had a history of deprecating features on short notice for the Firebase platform.
Ticketing and Applications¶
There are generally two ways to manage sign-ups to your hackathon: tickets and applications.
For both options there are plenty of options for platforms, but here are some of the most common.
When picking a ticketing platform, it's important to factor in what you value most (e.g. customizability, ticket management, mailing list support etc.). The two most widely used platforms are Tito and Eventbrite. They're fairly comparable platforms, but they have some differences noted below.
Eventbrite has been around for a long time, and operates as both an event discovery system and a ticketing platform. Some of its key advantages are built integrations with services like Mailchimp, the ability to search the platform for events, it also tends to have a better track record when dealing with high volume traffic, which is important if your batches tend to sell out in seconds.
Tito hasn't been around as long, and has more of a startup/small operation feeling, but it tends to offer a load of features that organizers value. While tito doesn't natively integrate with mailing list services, it does have a fairly competent mailing list tool (which you have to request access to). But where it really shines is in customizability, a ticket page on tito is dedicated to your event, and you're able to set a custom domain, details data and gdpr policies, use custom styles etc.
It's worth noting, though, tito can be a bit awkward for some, such that an order is not a ticket, you need to assign one. Which means abandoned tickets can sometimes cause issues with total availability.
There are loads of options for applications, below are some of the most common. If you want a dedicated platform, you'll have to self-host 99% of the time, but there are still plenty of ways to run effective applications without using one.
Typeform isn't a platform for applications, it isn't really anything more than a really pretty and powerful web form maker. Many events have used Typeform for hackathon applications and registrations of the years. They also offer student discount pricing, and have been known to sponsor some hackathons in the past.
HackAssistant has been tried and tested by some of the communities largest events, originally built for HackUPC and HackCU (in Barcelona, and Colorado). Unlike Quill it also provides tools for ranking applications. It's also easily customizable, and can be deployed to Heroku easily.
Using shortlinks is key to providing links to resources at various points during your event, especially when they're presented to attendees in a form that doesn't give them an immediate hyperlink (e.g. opening ceremony slides, over a PA, etc.).
Generally speaking their are two common approaches to providing shortlinks, using a url shortener (e.g. example.com/devpost) or using subdomains (e.g. devpost.example.com). Both approaches accomplish the same thing however require different types of configuration, DNS vs. running a web service.
There are loads of options and approaches you can take for URL shortening. Primarily, using a service like bit.ly, or hosting your own. The primary advantage of hosting your own over using a service is the ability to control the domain it runs on. However, as with hosting anything, there's a significantly higher risk of downtime as you're responsible for the infrastructure.
If you wish to host your own URL shortener a couple of options are (smtchahal/url-shortener)[https://github.com/smtchahal/url-shortener] which uses Django and can easily be deployed to Heroku, and Polr which is built in PHP and can easily be deployed using Docker or Kubernetes or to a service like Google Cloud Run.
Running your URL shortener on your root domain (e.g. example.com) and then your website on (www.example.com) and setting up requests to the root to redirect to the website by default can add an extra touch of professionalism to your event. As of January 2020, HackNotts runs Polr on hacknotts.com and defaults traffic to www.hacknotts.com which runs on GitHub pages.
It's worth noting, that unlike an HTTP redirect using a URL shortener, subdomain redirects will often have a delay while DNS servers propagate the new record. Additionally, if hackers enter the subdomain incorrectly, they're likely to just get shown a "server IP address could not be found." error in the browser.
The Manchester CS society wrote a hub they use to track achievements and submissions at StudentHack and GreatUniHack.
LibreSignage is a good open source solution, but does need some patches to get it to do what you want. Works with any web browser.
info beamer is a powerful option and free if you self host it. Used at large conferences like the CCC. Runs on a Pi or whatever mini computer you have.
If you are running a very large event with a huge venue, it might be worth forking c3nav.
It isn't uncommon for events to have their own hardware that they're able to lend to hackers. Below are some proposed solutions to keeping track of who has what.
If you go with the Google Form/Sheet or Snipe-IT options, it's of relative importance to ensure you have someway of having hackers agree to terms and conditions.
Google Form and a Google Sheet¶
The "low-fi" solution, but fairly reliable. You can make this solution as complex or simple as you want, but at its core, have a google form for requesting hardware, and then let have your volunteers update and add entires to a spreadsheet when people borrow and return hardware.
Unfortunately, this solution only really applies to events that are partnered with Major League Hacking, but if you are, you can give your hardware to your MLH coach, and they can add your equipment to the MLH Hardware Lab page for the event.
Arguably a bit overkill for a hackathon, it's certainly a valid option if you already use their platform for other community activities. Snipe-IT is a powerful open source asset management system that's used by many companies and organizations of varying sizes. An advantage of Snipe-IT over the others is that it takes care of and gives you access to asset history, and other actions. It also, unlike the MLH Hardware Lab, can allow the person staffing your check-in/check-out to loan equipment to individuals without requiring them to register/request hardware in advance.