By Piyush Mangalick, Partner Engineering 

What can you accomplish when you free yourself from day-to-day work? One of our long-standing traditions at Facebook is hackathons, where our engineers do just that — they take a break from existing projects to collaboratively explore new problems and solutions.

Over the last few months, our engineering team hosted hackathons with the news industry, in New York City, London, Hamburg and Paris, as part of the Facebook Journalism Project.

Across the four cities, over 350 attendees from product, strategy and engineering teams at news organizations came together to hack and build product solutions with developers from the local tech community and a group of Facebook engineers. The hackathons are just one of the ways we collaborate with news organizations to develop products, learn how we can be better partners, and give people the knowledge they need to be more informed readers.

Some of the ideas that teams came up with included:

Helping people see more perspectives. “The filter bubble is obviously a very real problem affecting our communities and even our civil discourse,” Head of Product for HuffPost Julia Beizer said. “The Hackathon gave us the opportunity to brainstorm with people from around the journalism communities on experiences we could create for readers that would help them break through.” HuffPost used their learnings from the Hackathon to iterate on a product they launched, The Flipside.

Reducing bias by analyzing the sentiment of stories. “The Facebook Project Journalism Hackathon gave us the opportunity to explore how IBM Watson could be utilized to provide users with a balanced viewpoint of news stories across publishers, reducing the impact of bias in the media industry,” Dan Cunnington, Emerging Technology Specialist at IBM said. “IBM Watson focused on emotional sentiments such as fear, joy, anger, sadness and disgust to compare and contrast different articles and social media content. The application developed during the Hackathon has shown how IBM Watson can quickly analyze content from a variety of different sources to provide a meaningful insight to the user.”

Leverage reader engagement and Facebook data to support reporting and monetization. “Most of dpa-newslab’s customers see in Facebook a cornerstone of their audience development strategies, so the Facebook Journalism Project Hackathon in Hamburg provided an ideal environment for getting together with some of them and working on a specific initiative to drive user engagement with their content on the platform,” Martin Virtel, Developer & Journalist at dpa-newslab said. “Facebook’s staff at the Hackathon in Hamburg helped us a lot with fresh insights and ideas on how to achieve this.”

Recommendation widget based on Facebook reactions. “The Facebook Journalism Project Hackathon was a valuable experience for all participants of the Funke Mediengruppe [parent company of Berliner Morgenpost],” Patrick Liesener, Product Manager of Berliner Morgenpost said.“That we have won the Hackathon with our recommendation widget fills us with gratitude and makes us proud. In the future, our readers will be able to understand debates and opinions on Facebook much better.”

CrowdTangle-powered Messenger bot. “During the Hackathon, we created a Messenger bot based on the CrowdTangle API called BuzzBot (now available on Facebook). It allows users to ping CrowdTangle on the main media sources in a few countries,” said Laurent Kretz, a Partner at CosaVostra. “Since the Hackathon, we’ve rolled out our bot on a wider scale, become avid CrowdTangle users for our prospects and clients, and are starting to push our top clients on big media towards building bots, and Instant Articles platforms.”

Another benefit was in bringing engineers of news organizations, Facebook and local tech community together in one space.

Valuable collaboration. “Our participation in this Hackathon was fruitful. On a daily basis, we do not often have the opportunity to meet other media. It is reassuring to realize that we are not the only ones facing these problems. The creative part, the positive atmosphere and the air change is a lever to give the courage to dare to find solutions to, often considered, too complex problems,” Lucas Cherifi, Technical Manager at Le Figaro said. “The principle of a hackathon is simple, and it caused great satisfaction at the end of the day, when we realized that it is possible to answer a problem in record time! There was also value in bringing engineers from various news organizations, the local tech community and Facebook together.”

“The Hackathon was a fantastic experience and it was great to come together and collaborate with other companies in the media industry, to solve important journalism challenges,” Dan Cunnington, Emerging Technology Specialist at IBM said.

“CosaVostra is an agency specialized in media and press. Getting our hands dirty on tools and APIs that our clients and partners use on a daily basis was great, but moreover meeting the teams behind those products (Instant Articles, CrowdTangle, Messenger, Live, etc.) was priceless,” said Laurent Kretz, a Partner at CosaVostra.

On a personal note, it was inspiring to see the publishers focus on hacks and solutions that not only innovated on story telling formats to keep their regional communities informed, but also innovated on how to better collaborate with those communities using mobile, AR, 360, and AI. I hope to see these developers again while meeting new ones around the globe.

To stay up to date on future events we plan, follow the Facebook Journalism Project page.