I had my first crisiscamp "experience" last Saturday at the NPR headquarters in DC - and wanted to share my observations and sentiments:
First, I was very impressed with the number of people who attended. Folks were spread out between a few rooms and flowing in/out through the day, so it was difficult to get a precise headcount... but, by my count, there must've been at least 150 people there. The spirit of service and community was great to see - and kudos to the crisiscamp coordinators for leading the way. I worked with a group looking to build english-to-creole translation applications (I'm working on Windows Mobile and Windows Desktop solutions - there are similar projects for iPhone and Android).
Second, the diversity of the attendees was interesting... not just all ages, but in skillsets. More than half of the people I met had a non-technical background... which was surprising in a way, as I thought it'd just be a gathering of geeks like me. This was a very positive thing, though, as the projects needed this diversity to get done. In fact, I would say that in community-sourced initiatives such as this, the non-technical work is often the most valuable and requires the most work. For example, it's fairly trivial to build an application that does dictionary translation... but takes a tremendous amount of work to assemble and categorize useful phrases that such an applicaiton might use.
Next... communications flowed very well... and for very agile development projects ("agile" woefully understates the process here), such communication is absolutely imperative. The teams made good use of a broad set of tools to get this done... and developers who are involved in more structured projects/processes should look to scenarios like this for learnings on how to share information and maintain visibility. Not everything will apply everywhere... but there are tidbits that can be reused (e.g., sharing a wiki for the project, using blogs and tweets for quick status updates, etc.).
Beyond that - hats off to the project managers and location coordinators... everything ran very smoothly and with a sense of purpose, which is a big challenge with dealing with such a large, diverse group.
And finally, the enthusiasm of the attendees (and coordinators) was wonderful and contagious. It really is amazing to see so many people with the desire to have a positive impact in the face of such a terrible tragedy - and just as impressive to see organizations like CrisisCommons help provide the venues and projects to allow them to do so. Unfortunately, I had to leave around 3pm... so didn't get to close it out with everyone... but I appreciate the opportunity to participate - and will continue to work on the projects.
For more information, visit: http://www.crisiscommons.org/
Also - I just got word that the Bing translation team has accelerated and released an English-Hatian Creole translator... which also has a web service API for those who want to write their own solutions.
ps. we'll make the Windows Mobile app available via the Windows Mobile Marketplace asap