Due to COVID-19, most hackathons are online only.
This changes the format for the event quite a bit, so to run a good online hackathon you need to make quite a few changes.
Main thing to keep in mind is that you need to reduce the amount of friction to get involved with your event.
You'll want to run your event for longer than just a single weekend. If you do decided to run it over a weekend, make it 36 hours long, starting on the Friday to give people a chance to sleep and catch up.
Two potential ways of running these:
- Run workshops throughout the event.
- Run your workshops leading up to the event, then have your period of hacking.
The first approach is how a lot of events (including Hack Quarantine) do it while the second approach is similar to how a lot of open source conferences handle it.
Second approach lets you promote the event with workshops leading up to, and also gives hackers a chance to feel prepared for the hackathon if it's their first time hacking.
Have a clear schedule and make sure you communicate to hackers when you have to delay or move something!
Workshops tend to be a more significant part of your event when it is digital as compared to in person events.
Hackathons are a good way of giving people the opportunity to present for the first time!
First time speakers do need guidance on how to run a good workshop, so do work with them!
It is essential you get your speakers to test beforehand! Preferable a day or more in advance.
Give hackers "goodie bags" of code / tools, like jupyter notebooks, so they can quickly get started and experiment.
Audience engagement! Be mindful of the medium, people tune into live streams because of the ability to interact with the streamer!
Audio quality is really important! People can take a slightly blurly / slow video, but constant clipping in the audio will make people stop watching.
Make sure they record it locally, that way if they cut out you still have a copy that can be uploaded to youtube.
Worth noting Twitch does not transcode unless you are a partner, so your input stream is sent directly to hackers. Streaming in 1080p 60fps without transcoding might exclude hackers with weaker internet connections. Working with Hackathons UK or other similar organisations can be a solution to this as they have the potential to offer a partnered channel to stream on.
Youtube as a platform however offers transcoding on all videos, but it is worth noting that accounts need to be made at least 24 hours in advance of streaming. Youtube will not let you embed a stream without the account having been linked to adsense however a restiction Twitch does not have.
Be careful with copyrighted content¶
Make sure your speakers are mindful not to include copyrighted content.
If there is a need for background music, there are multiple open libraries that just require attribution to use.
For the community, you need to choose a platform that hackers are familiar with and doesn't require making a whole brand new account to get involved with.
If it's not convenient for them, once they close the page they'll never check it again.
Ideally, Discord is probably one of the best choices for platforms, as it has very little friction to join in and most hackers already have it. It also has a powerful role system which is useful for moderation.
We'd advise against doing everything via things like a zoom / webex call, as it can be quite anxiety inducing to join a call with people you do not know. Not everyone is comfortable showing their face or speaking, so keep it primarily text based with all the voice aspects optional.
The one area were voice is useful is doing a progress check-in to get feedback, discuss problems with their project, etc.
Little community things like playing a game together really do help engagement!
You generally need less sponsorship for these. Main cost is prizes / potentially some server hosting costs.
Worth trying to get sponsors that give your hackers something like API credits, as that directly contributes to the value of the hackathon.
You have more time to judge, so use it!