Occupy Wall Street Hackathons Want to Build a Better Protest

Occupy Wall Street has an IT department. The movement’s technologists, like their park-squatting counterparts, are a decentralized group. But they’ve independently started hackathons this weekend in New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Even before the first protester showed up at Wall Street on Sept. 17, a group of people had started working on the movement’s technology components . The so-called Internet working group has held meetings that covered how to edit the site openly, how to run the Twitter account and what server space to use. It’s not necessarily the most organized operation, but it’s becoming more so.

“I think we’re going to see a few people leading the helm really soon and saying this is what we need, this is what we’re working on right now,” says Occupy Together NYC Hackathon creator Andrew Gwozdziewycz, who is a casual member of several listervs that discuss the movement’s technology needs. “So far that doesn’t seem to be happening yet. … They are taking over the main website and centralizing control of it.”

Meanwhile, hackathoners like Gwozdziewycz are hoping to build better technologies that aid the movement and its on-the-ground protesters. He, for instance, plans to build a group messaging app that sends text messages to groups members that are in a similar location.

“Right now they’re using the people’s microphone to broadcast the fact that there’s a working group meeting at the library,” Gwozdziewycz says. “And that’s a lot of noise for no reason when people could be coordinating on their phone.”


A hackathon at Meetup headquarters on Friday aims to build programs that aid the Occupy Wall Street movement.


Gwozdziewycz is a Meetup employee and is hosting the hackathon at the group meeting platform’s Broadway-Avenue office on Friday. About a dozen hackathon participants are there working on communication platforms, media aggregation tools or even, in one case, a “distributed decision making platform.” Aaron Williamson is working on an ongoing project that aims to preserve privacy online. He, like most of the people who are running and participating in the Occupy Wall Street hackathons, has not been very involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“Honestly I haven’t even gotten down to the movement,” he says, “mostly because I have a full-time job.”

“I don’t really know a whole lot about what is going on down there,” says Cameron Cundiff, who was thinking about building a tool that could sort which Tweets are most relevant to protest activities. “I’ve only seen what I’ve been able to gleen in popular forms, but I wanted to learn more and I also think it’s an interesting design challenge because you don’t want to screw that up, helping someone who is under pressure and the risk of being arrested. It gives you constraints that are pretty hard.”MORE

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