Mingling is hard. In high school the D&D crowd ate with the other nerds, jocks with jocks, and plastics with plastics. Individual expression stifled by the homogeneous personality of the group with few interactions between tables.
Hack week exploded two Vox Media cliques for at least a few days in August, forcing writers from the Verge (and across Vox) and developers and designers from the Product team to engage with each other face-to-face. It was weird and uncomfortable, scary even. But man, was it worth it.
On Monday, Verge writers began building stories around the new toys we were given — the tools were the focus of the articles. But by Wednesday, the tools began morphing into just that: tools, devices for Verge writers to tell better stories.
Hierarchies and processes were abandoned, replaced by humans with needs speaking directly to humans with solutions. Writers, who were timid at the start of the week, began taking risks. Instead of waiting for news to happen they created it with the simple guiding principle of, "if I like it our readers will too." Bugs were identified and squashed in minutes. Artwork was proposed, created, and implemented in hours. Tools were refined and customized on the fly, with new ones identified for future development.
The walls were down and it was fun, driven by a sense of awe in what we were accomplishing together. A shared sense of regret for having not worked more closely in the past.
Vox Media is built on the idea of using technology as a platform to tell better stories. A conceit whose expression is wholly realized in Chorus, our publishing platform. As a tool, however, it puts a box around creativity. A much roomier and cozier box than traditional content management systems, but a box nevertheless.
This week was exceptional because we shared a mandate to push the boundaries of that box. To try new code, new layouts, new writing styles, new subjects. Most importantly: we had permission to fail. And guess what? Verge readers didn't abandon us. In fact, the numbers suggest they loved it.
Now we head into our busiest time of the year armed with new tools and an immense feeling of camaraderie and respect for the people who build them.
Who knew that Product, like Soylent Green, is made of real people?
Thomas Ricker is the Deputy Managing Editor, International of The Verge.