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The WSJ Data Transparency Weekend: Not a Hackathon

Ed Felten at the WSJ Data Transparency Weekend
Take Your Daughter to Hack Day at the WSJ Data Transparency Weekend

The Wall Street Journal had its first hackathon this year. Sort of.

The Data Transparency Weekend, as it was officially called, was actually billed as a “codeathon,” a word that might be meaningless but that, unlike the more commonly accepted word “hackathon,” is guaranteed not to alarm anyone who is worried about masked geeks bent on cyberdestruction.

Over that weekend in April, the Journal brought about 100 programmers together to work on tools to help people see and control their personal data. The projects, which surpassed even my high expectations, ranged from a tool for monitoring data that escapes your cellphone to software that lets Web surfers see what their browsing habits indicate about their demographic profile.

Generally, like any good journalist, I’m a bit cynical. I’m not prone to using phrases like “community-building” or “honoring the process.” But this weekend left me optimistic. Among the highlights: Princeton professor and Chief Federal Trade Commission Technologist Ed Felten hacking with his daughter, a high-school computer science student; cat-shaped emoticons in the Cryptocat chat room; and a censorship-detection tool modeled on “Minesweeper.”

My husband and I also had the pleasure of hosting a couple Data Transparency Weekend hackers at our home in Brooklyn. To decide who slept in the guest room and who slept on the couch, they used a random number generator. Awww.

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