One Week | One Tool: Bit by Bit

Much has already been written about One Week | One Tool and its creation, the  Seredip-o-matic search engine. Brian Croxall and Mia Ridge  chronicled each day of the week and also reflected on ideas such as trust, unity, ego, and teamwork. And Jack Dougherty and Amrys Williams added their own important details. I nonetheless feel compelled to write my thoughts about One Week. As a non-programmer and as the team member with the most limited understanding of code, I had wondered — and worried — about what role I might play in the creative hackathon. Initially intimidated by the process, I was happy to quickly become engrossed in the project as group members galvanized around Serendip-o-matic and focused on individual responsibilities.  Once in my assigned role, I found myself fully immersed in the digital humanities, even though I wasn’t fully digital.

LayoutWhile much of the team talked in language involving “pull requests,” “forking,” and “jQuery,” my language strictly concerned Serendip-o-matic’s purpose, responsiveness, and appeal — the vocabulary and ideas of why and how it worked, and how to promote it. While I did write some rudimentary HTML and made a GitHub “push,” user advocacy, product description, and public relations occupied nearly 100% of my time.

My responsibilities, and those of the other eleven participants, came together mid-day on Tuesday. Following a Monday brainstorming session about tool ideas and a subsequent crowd-sourced popularity contest on IdeaScale, the full group took Tuesday morning to debate our choices. After eleven possibilities became four, and then four became one, attention shifted to team building.  Meghan Frazier, who had on Monday stepped up to guide our brainstorming session, emerged as co-project manager with Brian. They then facilitated division of everyone else into two teams: Development/Design and Outreach. For me, Outreach was the only possibility. Psyched to have a clear role, I began to feel less intimidated by the process. Further, once on my team, I soon became too busy to worry any longer. The train was leaving the station, its destination was Friday afternoon, and it was time to move.

On Wednesday afternoon, once a product name, tagline, and domain name had been selected, outreach work became increasingly focused on communication and user advocacy. Jack, Outreach leader, guided Amrys and myself in drafting press release language, choosing pages and writing copy for the Serendip-o-matic website, growing a media and public relations contact list, and sharing user impressions with Dev/Design. Marathon sessions of wordsmithing were combined with web searches for news outlets and blogger info, which were combined with evaluating Serendip-o-matic’s performance and feel. In one way or another, these jobs basically continued until Mia, Dev/Design leader, announced on Friday afternoon that her coders (Scott Kleinman, Scott Williams, Eli Rose, Amanda Visconti, Rebecca SuttonKoeser) and designer (Amy Papaelias) were ready to go.

DinnerSerendip-o-matic was born on Friday around 3 pm at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University. It’s now available to all — teachers, students, scholars, or those who simply want to browse. The tool works well and is useful and unique enough to impress Dan Cohen, Founding Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America.  The tool came from a talented group of programmers who worked immensely hard with little sleep. Yet, as Amrys mentioned in the Google Hangout interview during Friday’s live launch, it’s also the result of a full community that came together with the common goal of advancing the digital humanities. At CHNM hangs a sign that reads, “Building a Better Yesterday, Bit by Bit.” The programmers clearly did this. But even the work that wasn’t fully digital, did, bit by bit, contribute in the end. Serendip-o-matic, therefore, really is the product of something resembling a digital humanities “barn raising,” a community effort where everyone rolls up their sleeves, pulls together, does what’s necessary, and builds something good.

Immensely proud of my team’s creation, I thank the National Endowment for the Humanities Division of Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities, One Week | One Tool director Tom Scheinfeldt, and the great people at CHNM for giving me the opportunity to help launch Serendip-o-matic.