Why Knowledge Graphs belong to the Kindergarten

Aviation, Big Data, Graph Visualisation, Machine Learning, Press release, Visual Analytics, Visualisation

Knowledge graphs are dead for predictive graph analytics – long live dynamic knowledge graphs

Graph Analytics on Knowledge Graphs is currently hyped by many technology prediction companies. “Gartner predicts that by 2025, graph technologies will be used in 80% of data and analytics innovations, up from 10% in 2021” (Ref. 1) with a phenomenal growth at a CAGR of 32.64% from 2020 to 2027 and reaching a projected market size of ​​USD 5.4 Billion by Verified Market Research (Ref. 2).

They are right that graph analytics has demonstrated its impact already in scientific publication interconnection, innovation and collaboration spotting, know your clients (KYC) in banking, marketing and many other applications. They are also right that we just start to use graph analytics to its full potential and continuously identify new applications. But many insights that are currently promised are not deliverable with the toolsets we currently have in hand. Dynamic Knowledge Graph (DKG) systems are one possibility to meet the high expectations raised by the promises. 

Follow me for a second on a little journey. Read word by word, loud and slowly: spring :: temperature :: outside :: leaf :: strength :: energy :: coiled. 

Did something happen at the last word? Did your understanding change from spring, the season, to spring, the mechanical helix that stores energy? A simple and at the same time highly complex switch of meaning, depending on if one is a human or a knowledge graph algorithm.

Already in the kindergarten little children learn about homophones (words with exact same pronunciation, but different meaning). This happens often in forms of jokes: >>What do you call a deer with no eyes? – No idea!<< and >>What do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs? – Still no idea!<<. >>No idea? or No eye deer?<< A little later with learning writing in school as humans we learn about homonyms (words with exact same pronunciation and same spelling, but different meaning).

>>bow<< is a classical example of a homonym. Depending on context it can have many multiple meanings, or as one would say in the studies of history of words: The different meanings of >>bow<< represent multiple etymologically separate lexemes.

  • a weapon to shoot arrows
  • a front of a ship
  • a wooden stick with horse hair to play string instruments
  • a tied ribbon
  • bending forward at the waist
  • bending outward at the sides

Some languages are less phonetic than others and have more homophones, to the benefit of stand-up comedians. The effects of homonyms on the learning of children have been studied (see Ref.3) and it is interesting to notice that several studies show positive learning effects even for other languages e.g. “Homophones facilitate lexical development in a second language” (see Ref.4-6).

If you never heard the >>no eye deer<< joke before, your brain delivered an enormous transformative performance by understanding the controversial, unexpected twist. I like jokes that create moments and sometimes seconds of confusion where in the best case I even have to read the jokes once again before the meaning twist kicks in. I (or my brain itself?) congratulate and reward myself for that good transferformational performance by laughing. The transformational process differs from person to person based on culture, field of expertise and prior knowledge.

With understanding the meaning of >>spring<< in the word by word list example from above, again your brain performed something that is hard to achieve with a knowledge graph without some extensions. Depending on your background, job, culture most probably you started with ‘the season’ or the ‘natural water source’  meaning. It is very unlikely that you belong to the very small minority of coil spring manufacturers or mechanical engineers which would have maybe started with the mechanical helix device. The next two words >>temperature<< and >>outside<< are compatible with all three meanings, but in general knowledge texts they are much more often associated with ‘the season’ meaning, followed by the ‘natural water source’ meaning and only very rarely with the ‘helix device’.

What happened at >>leaf<<? With this highly ‘the season’ meaning connected word, most probably your understanding was now hardened towards this meaning. Important at this point is that you might have only heard or seen once in your life about a >>leaf spring<< on old carriages or cars. Most probably you have not even an active memory about it, but if you see a picture, you will recall. For the ‘natural water source’ meaning certainly you can imagine a leaf floating on a source. >>leaf<< is not incompatible with any of the three meanings, even if at this point of time you even did not have the ‘helix device’ as an meaning option actively on your radar. 

In common knowledge texts the next two words >>strength<< and >>energy<< are connected equally to the different meanings. And you can easily build a connection to the energizing or strengthening effect ‘the season’ or ‘the hot spring’ might have on people. Both words support the interpretation you are following at this stage, most probably the ‘season’ meaning.

>>coiled<< now is the game changer. Suddenly there is a conflict, there is an incompatibility with your current meaning interpretation. A transformative rethinking or reordering of information is required. Maybe you have spent a similar moment or second like when understanding a twisted joke. How this happens in our brains is subject to current research. 

This transformational process that you managed easily, is not possible with the knowledge graph tools we have today. 

Let us go back to information technology using knowledge graphs. If the number of concepts for >>spring<< that can be distinguished  is established at the beginning of the learning, a knowledge graph can be used to distinguish between these meanings. But with a non-dynamic non-transactional knowledge graph, the transformative process of extending or reducing the number of concepts is triggered by external additional information or human correction, and is not a transactional learning process. In most cases this can be only resolved by establishing the new context split-up as external input and relearning the entire knowledge graph or at least a significant sub-graph of it. 

Many Graph compute engines are non-transactional and provide read-only graph analytics. They come in node-centric and edge-centric shapes that have different advantages depending on the graph algorithm to perform. They are in contrast to graph databases that are transactional that scale better with graph size, but scale worse for complex graph analytics that need big parts of the graph and not just a limited sub-graph.

gluoNNet Headron is an in-memory, transactional, path-centric, dynamic knowledge graph analytics engine. By forked navigation histories, it allows to explore dynamically the different possible knowledge graph context projections of the ingested information fragments. It uses Human Readable Queries (HRC) to generate actionable insights for decision makers. It saves time and costs by accelerating the data analysis and decision iteration processes between executive decision makers and data analysis specialists. The gluoNNet Headron solution empowers them to accelerate and elevate the transformational process necessary to understand complex data and turn it into actionable insights.  
For more information on our graph analytics and visualisation solutions, please contact Daniel Dobos or info@gluonnet.com.


Ref. 1: Gartner, https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2021-03-16-gartner-identifies-top-10-data-and-analytics-technologies-trends-for-2021 

Ref. 2: VerifiedMarketResearch, https://www.verifiedmarketresearch.com/product/graph-analytics-market/ 

Ref. 3: J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2013 Apr; 56(2): 694–707. Published online 2012 Dec 28. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2012/12-0122)

Ref. 4: Homophones facilitate lexical development in a second language,  Jiang Liua  and Seth Wiener,https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0346251X19306670 

Ref. 5: The effect of homonymy on learning correctly articulated versus misarticulated words, Holly L. Storkel, Junko Maekawa, Andrew J. Aschenbrenner, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3615102/ 

Ref. 6: The Effect of Semantic Similarity on Learning Ambiguous Words in a Second Language: An Event-Related Potential Study, Yuanyue Zhang, Yao Lu, Lijuan Liang and Baoguo Chen, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01633/full

Date: Jan 18, 2022
AUTHOR: Daniel Dobos

The Headron Project – Connecting the Dots

Big Data, core, Graph Visualisation, Visual Analytics

Do you remember the connecting-the-dots puzzles from your childhood? Dinosaur or daisy — gradually transpiring from the jumble of dots and numbers as you’re counting upwards, connecting the lines. At gluoNNet, we are working on a software solution for connecting-the-dots puzzles of some sorts, still trying to make sense of a (much bigger) jumble.

Our solution is called ‘Headron’, gluoNNet’s analytical engine. The Headron Analytical Engine will less likely reward its user with a silhouette of an animal or object, but it can help them to see the bigger picture, nevertheless. Its visualisations have the potential to reveal surprising relationships in the data. The data-visualisation method depicts the data (nodes) and sets them into respective relations (connecting lines), based on metadata. The innovative aspect of Headron’s relational approach is its user friendliness. With its simple and intuitive ways of interaction the programme empowers users of all skill levels to make the most of their data.The fully functional beta version of the engine will be launched in early 2022.

The Headron Engine will eventually be integrated into ‘Sunflower’, a first-of-its-kind digital regulation system for the aviation industry gluoNNet co-develops. This innovative system aims to allow better management of aviation-related issues that require regulatory oversight, such as quickly verifying information, speeding up approval procedures, and stopping actions that are illegal or deceptive. Once the Headron Engine has been successfully integrated and sufficiently tested, the gluoNNet developers will work on a more general application.

The Headron visualisation can be applied to various purposes. Financial authorities could track the money flow among publicly registered companies in their purview. In another scenario from the public sector, authorities could benefit from the visualisation method in applying it to legal enforcement, highlighting correlations between committed crimes, eventually helping solve them. Furthermore, the Headron project can support humanitarian endeavours. For instance, it could help analyse and visualise the sanitation situation in third and second world countries, flagging up areas that need more attention from the government or humanitarian agencies.

“The application purposes are vast and manifold. The engine’s design allows running different sets of data from different domains and helps to find connections among those different domains. A universal instrument for data analysis that can be easily implemented into existing systems,” says Richárd Forster, the lead developer of the project.

Of course, the Headron Engine can also analyse scientific data. The underlying structure of the Headron visualisation is inspired by particle-track reconstruction algorithms developed by scientists and engineers at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN).

For more information on our data analysis and data visualisation solutions, please contact Richard Forster or info@gluonnet.com.

Date: Dec 2, 2021
AUTHOR: Hans Baechle

Unlock your data’s full potential

Aviation, Big Data, Graph Visualisation, Machine Learning, Visual Analytics, Visualisation

Do you think data analysis is extraordinarily complex? Is significant training and experience the only way to understand vast amounts of data? Whilst it was once the case, now with the right software, that is just not true. gluoNNet develops data analysis and data-visualisation solutions that unlock your data’s hidden value. Our sophisticated algorithms do the heavy lifting for you, and then our visualisations provide the clarity to make informed decisions. 

Our solutions provide you with a concise summary of all your data, laying bare all the intricacies and nuances by highlighting all the important relationships, bottlenecks, and other strategic insights. With this ‘x-ray vision’ for data, you can enhance your decision-making process, making your organisation more efficient and effective. 

Our modular UI (user interface), is simple to tailor to your needs, allowing an intuitive and clear overview of your organisation with the flexibility to put any aspect of the data under the microscope. The UI displays this data in the most user-friendly way, whether that is with a diagram, map, cluster/galaxy, gauge, bespoke method, or even a simple table — ensuring you can always see your data clearly. With a few clicks, the user can easily filter from large amounts of data to just show anomalies. Workforce optimisation is easy, with flexible views allowing for individual or role-based customisation focusing on relevant data and also restricting access to sensitive data to only those who require it. Each user can easily drag and rearrange the visualisations in a view, to produce a layout that suits them, saving it for later use and sharing with other users.


All gluoNNet UI solutions can be customised in a simple and dynamic way.

Our algorithms allow real-time or near real-time processing, no matter if the data is coming from scientific, industrial, financial, infrastructure, or other contexts. Our software can combine many input sources, and is compatible with the cloud, on-premise and disconnected networks. It also tracks and highlights any changes of interest, subject to your criteria, by providing custom alerts. This allows you to stop labour-intensive monitoring and relax, knowing the software will highlight important information. If our algorithms identify urgent alerts, you can receive an immediate notification, allowing you to tackle critical issues without delay. Our product allows for automated or user-controlled dossier and report creation to allow specific alerts or custom analysis to be circulated to a wider audience.

We have applied this innovative approach on aviation data, resulting in a first-of-its-kind digital regulation system for the aviation industry. The aim of this innovative system is to allow better management of aviation-related issues that require regulatory oversight, quickly verifying information, speeding up approval procedures, and stopping actions that are illegal or deceptive.  


Click on the images in the gallery to see them in full size.

Another use case we are working on is to better identify and maximise materiality when applied to ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) metrics. The user can run diagnostics on current internal processes, and identify gaps or missing areas, articulated and measured within a live dynamic decision-making environment. Regularly ingesting data and processing real-time financial information to continuously update a materiality framework. This allows the user to look at trends over time, discerning what is driving the market, and eventually positioning the company as a global citizen within the ESG future state.

For more information on our data analysis and data visualisation solutions, please contact Michael Denyer or info@gluonnet.com.

Date: Sep 17, 2021
AUTHOR: Hans Baechle

Hacking for humanity: Wildfire alerts, tackling domestic violence, reducing educational inequality and more at CERN’s global Webfest

Event, Hackathon

Once again, gluoNNet supported its collaborator CERN openlab in the facilitation of the CERN Webfest hackathon. This article about this year’s CERN Webfest was written by Andrew Purcell, Communications Officer at CERN openlab. The original publication can be found on openlab.cern

The 2021 CERN Webfest took place on the weekend of 21-22 August. The Webfest is CERN’s annual hackathon based on open web technologies. 300 people signed up for this year’s event, which was held online for only the second time. The participants — from 63 countries spread across the globe — formed into small teams and used their combined skills and knowledge to develop innovative prototype apps, hardware, and other tools.

The theme for this year’s Webfest was “science, society, sustainability”, with participants encouraged to work on projects that address certain UN Sustainable Development Goals. In line with these, teams at the Webfest created an application to warn of wildfiresa concealed alarm system for victims of domestic violencea directory for online learning materialsa website providing clear and accurate information about nuclear energya health app that identifies nutrient deficienciesan AI system to aid with studying, and much more. Information on all 22 innovative projects can be found on the Webfest website.

“Focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals, the participants in this year’s CERN Webfest showed a great commitment to using their skills to improve our world,” says Charlotte Warakaulle, Director for International Relations at CERN. “Their creativity and innovation has not only generated new practical solutions to societal challenges, but has also inspired new ways of working together.” Warakaulle, who was one of the judges at this year’s event, continues: “The wealth of ideas presented has great potential to make a real difference in peoples’ lives. Congratulations to all of the participants for this achievement!”

Each year, one project is selected as the overall Webfest winner. The eight judges at this year’s event selected a project that uses crowdsourced designs and 3D printing to create tools for disabled people. In particular, these tools are aimed at helping people with conditions like ectrodactyly and syndactyly (malformations of the hand) to use everyday objects. During the Webfest, the team was able to create a prototype attachment that helps those with these conditions to pick up drinking bottles. Find out more about the winning project here.

“For me, the Webfest was more than a hackathon; it was a portal for meeting new people from various backgrounds and learning about their journeys,” says Komal Kedarnath, a mechanical engineering student from India and a member of the winning team. “This kind of collaboration naturally fosters innovation and elicits creativity. I had the best time during the networking sessions, where I talked to people from 10 different time zones about how they got here. It was amazing!”

In addition to these networking sessions, the Webfest offered a fun CERN-themed quiz, an online exercise session, and several how-to workshops focused on practical skills, such as how to give good presentations and how to create short videos. This diverse programme was made possible thanks to the Webfest’s supporters: CERN openlab, gluoNNet, RemotelyGreen, Veertly, Citizen Cyberlab, Crowd4SDG, THE Port, CERN Alumni, Quantum FutureX, AI Crowd and CERN Fitness Club.

“Sharing ideas with other participants during the Webfest really helped us to improve the way we approach our project,” says Diego Lopez Yse a data science student in Argentina. “Through exchanging views and experiences, we were able to come up with new ways to solve our challenge, while also helping others with their projects.” He continues: “I highly recommend participating in the Webfest: you meet incredibly talented people who can help you grow and expand your vision.”

Given the global interest once again shown, the orgasnisers plan to run the hackathon online again next year.

“We’ve come a long way since 2012 when Francois Grey and I founded the Webfest as CERN’s very first hackathon,” says Ben Segal, CERN honorary staff member and member of the Internet Hall of Fame. “Taking the Webfest online has added a lot, bringing us closer to massive amounts of talent spread all over the Internet.”

Watch the Webfest’s closing ceremony on YouTube to find out more about the event.

Date: Sep 7, 2021
AUTHOR: Hans Baechle

Lunara Nurgaliyeva from Kazakhstan joins CERN openlab’s Summer Student Programme, investigating particle-tracking algorithms applied to aviation logistics

Aviation, Big Data, Machine Learning, Quantum Computing

This summer, gluoNNet’s collaborative research project with CERN openlab in the field of quantum computing is reinforced by Kazakh student Lunara Nurgaliyeva. The 22-year-old computer science and mathematics student from Nazarbayev University in Nur-Sultan participates in the CERN openlab Summer Student Programme 2021.

CERN openlab is a public-private partnership run by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) that accelerates the development of cutting-edge ICT solutions for the worldwide LHC community and wider scientific research. Through CERN openlab, CERN collaborates with research institutes and ICT companies, gluoNNet being one of them.

Due to the pandemic, the upcoming CERN openlab Summer Student Programme takes place online, with the selected students participating remotely from their homes across the globe. Over nine weeks (June-August 2021), Nurgaliyeva and her fellow students work via remote connection with some of the latest hardware and software technologies and learn how advanced ICT solutions are used in high-energy physics and beyond. Furthermore, Nurgaliyeva and her fellow students attend a series of online lectures and training sessions prepared by ICT experts at CERN. Special virtual lab visits are also part of the internship. Furthermore, the summer students can participate in a hackathon — the CERN Webfest on 21-22 August 2021 with gluoNNet as a co-organiser — and other exciting events.

Through the joint project on quantum graph neural networks, involving CERN openlab, the Middle East Technical University (METU), and gluoNNet, Nurgaliyeva investigates the application of particle-tracking algorithms for logistical challenges in aviation. Previously, researchers in the collaboration have identified several algorithms that might be interesting for aviation logistics. Using methods in machine learning and artificial intelligence, Nurgaliyeva examines these algorithms, aiming to create sustainable solutions for the aviation industry. Optimising environmental impact is one of the key goals of this exercise.  

“I am interested in the evaluation of the suitability of different machine learning and artificial intelligence methods, finding new ways of application in order to solve problems in industry or academia,” says Nurgaliyeva. “I am so excited to work on my project with my supervisors.”

The “Sunflower” project is one potential use case for the research project’s findings. This novel software solution designed for the civil aviation industry is co-developed by gluoNNet, BussinessOptix, and the Civil Aviation Administration of Kazakhstan (CAAKZ). It allows better management of aviation-related issues that require regulatory oversight, such as quickly verifying information, speeding up approval procedures, and stopping actions that are illegal or deceptive. 

Date: Jul 21, 2021
AUTHOR: Hans Baechle

gluoNNet, Veertly, and RemotelyGreen launch series of open discussions and networking sessions about virtual events

Event, Visual Analytics, Visualisation

Join the next session of our Open Discussion & Networking series on Friday, 9 July at 4 pm CEST! Register here.

On 4 June, gluoNNet, Veertly, and RemotelyGreen held an open discussion and networking session on the future of online events together. The idea was to exchange experiences and ideas regarding the fast-evolving online events sector among the virtual events community. The event produced lively discussions and connected people from different domains. It was well received by its participants, giving them new ideas, insights, and contacts. The attendees talked about a wide variety of topics, such as the consolidation of virtual and on-site events, the vast potential of online hackathons as a political instrument, or the public image of online events.


RemotelyGreen is now working with Veertly to improve the integration of the two platforms and give smooth access for participants.


Given the event was a success, the collaboration of gluoNNet, Veertly, and RemotelyGreen decided to hold more such events in the future and created the series “Open Discussions & Networking”. The event series will focus on topics related to the virtual events landscape. Everyone is invited to join these informal get-togethers to meet experts and other curious minds, discussing and learning more about these topics. The sessions are free of charge and take place every first Friday of the month at 4 pm CE(S)T on Veertly. The next session of our Open Discussion & Networking series about the topic of virtual networking will (exceptionally) take place on Friday, 9 July at 4 pm CEST.

“The event went well, and we had a lot of fun discussing virtual events. We aim to establish an interesting series of events for the virtual events community. We welcome everyone to join our discussions and networking sessions. The more, the merrier,” says Karolos Potamianos, co-founder of gluoNNet.


Visualisation of a RemotelyGreen networking event. Red dots are encounters, yellow dots are participants. For data protection, dot labels had to be removed.


Additionally, for the event on 4 June, gluoNNet and RemotelyGreen tested a new way of data visualisation in relation to online events. This type of animated interactive 3D visualisation allows event organisers to track each encounter in the virtual meeting place, giving them insights into the dynamics of the event. The networking session resulted in 54 new connections among 17 participants. The networking sessions had a rating of 4.65/5 on average. Amongst the most popular topics discussed were: hybrid events, virtual vs on-site, co-existence of virtual and on-site events, acceptance of virtual events, virtual event innovations.


Join the next session of our Open Discussion & Networking series!

Topic: Virtual Networking

Date: Friday, 9 July 2021

Time: 4 pm CEST

Cost: free

Venue: online on Veertly and RemotelyGreen

You can register for the event following this link.

For more information about the event, check our info slide deck.

Date: Jul 1, 2021
AUTHOR: Hans Baechle

Aviation-regulation project ‘Sunflower’ finishes phase 2, achieving major milestones

Aviation, Big Data, Machine Learning, Visualisation

The Sunflower project finished its second phase successfully, reaching major milestones in the course of the project’s overall development. Project Sunflower is an international collaboration of the Aviation Administration of Kazakhstan (CAAKZ), BusinessOptix, and gluoNNet. Together they are developing a first-of-its-kind digital regulation system for the aviation industry. The aim of this innovative system is to allow better management of aviation-related issues that require regulatory oversight, such as quickly verifying information, speeding up approval procedures, and stopping actions that are illegal or deceptive.

In the course of the now-finished second phase, the developers were able to successfully test new features. The new features will increase the software’s user-friendliness and information output. Among other things, the ability to create a flight dossier was added to the programme. Furthermore,  improvements to the UI (user interface) were made and successfully demonstrated. As a next step, these improvements will be fully integrated. Other features such as 3D views, an integrated weather pane were designed and tested. Additionally, database and data-visualisation mechanisms were improved.

Furthermore, gluoNNet transferred the Sunflower contract from its UK branch to its Swiss business entity. “Transcribing the Sunflower project from our UK subsidiary to our Swiss entity gives us more flexibility in terms of international cooperation regarding the Sunflower project,” says Daniel Dobos, gluoNNet CEO.

A detailed video presentation of the ‘Sunflower’ project can be found here.

Date: Jun 17, 2021
AUTHOR: Hans Baechle

The Future of Virtual Events – Join the discussion and networking session

Conference, Event, Hackathon

As the Covid-19 pandemic seemingly tapers off, normality returns to our lives. That is also true for the events sector. In countries like Israel or New Zealand, weddings, concerts, church services, school classes, business meetings, etc., are taking place on-site again. Gradually, more countries will likely follow.

However, for the past couple of months, many of us were getting together in virtual spaces. Home office and remote classrooms became the default for millions of people since videoconferencing platforms were the only means of meeting safely. This circumstance did not only change our perspective on remote work and remote collaboration, but it also gave rise to numerous innovations in the events sector such as the online hackathon, virtual event platforms, or live-directed webcasts.

So how will the virtual events sector develop in a post-pandemic world? Are people now used to or fed up with virtual events? Will they establish themselves as an alternative to on-site events? Or will they fall back into a marginal existence? Are there event types more suitable to be carried out online? Everyone is invited to join our virtual discussion and networking session “The Future of Virtual Events” on Friday, 4 June 2021 at 4 pm CEST to discuss these and many more questions with experts in the field.

After a brief welcome session with the whole audience, experts and participants will be able to discuss the questions and get to know each other in small groups of 4. After a couple of minutes, the groups will be re-shuffled to allow experts and participants to meet and discuss with many other fellow attendees.

To join the free event, follow this link: https://app.eu.veertly.com/v/future-virtual-events

Please check out our info slide deck for the agenda, the protocol of the discussion and networking, the expert list, and further information.

Please note: for both platforms, Veertly and RemotelyGreen, participants will have to register (free) in order to take part.  This can be done with  few clicks following these links:

  1. https://app.veertly.com/login/register
  2. https://app.remotely.green/login

Date: May 27, 2021
AUTHOR: Hans Baechle
Comments: 1

Online hackathons – the pandemic’s promising perk

Event, Hackathon

The year 2020 was certainly not the best in recent history. The coronavirus outbreak has illustrated how quickly our modern civilisation, which had seemed almost imperturbable, can be derailed. Now, the rampant virus keeps our planet in check. The resulting medical, social, and economical crises will take us years to mitigate. Arguably, the Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge to humanity since World War II. Yet despite all the hardship entailed, the pandemic yields valuable lessons and opportunities, providing fertile ground for science, innovation, and collaboration. For instance, in record-breaking time, multiple teams of international scientists developed functioning vaccines against the Covid-19 pathogen.

Furthermore, despite lockdowns and social distancing, our digital technologies enable us to continue working, teaching, and studying. It can be assumed, that this forced revolution of remote collaboration will sustain to certain degrees even after the pandemic has ended. The benefits range from increased individual flexibility to betterments regarding climate change. Another positive development induced by the pandemic is the plethora of ingenious and creative solutions people devised in order to bring normality back into our lives. For example, they have created apps, gadgets, and concepts to make public transport safer, to provide artists with a (virtual) platform for their art, or to ensure quarantined individuals get their groceries delivered.

It is remarkable that rather than from big companies and organisations, a considerable amount of these innovations came from individuals and small groups, many of them starting their projects at virtual hackathons, so-called ‘online hackathons’. Within the last couple of months, these virtual events have gained extraordinary momentum. At the beginning of the pandemic, across several countries and under the patronage of the respective governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) organised nationwide hackathons as a reaction to the Covid-19 outbreak, facilitating successful events and marking the start of the hackathon’s transformation to the virtual realm. Being a concrete exemplification of one of the pandemic’s perks, this growing event type with its vast potential will be further outlined in the following pages.

What the hack? – a brief summary of the hackathon phenomenon

Hackathons are a relatively young phenomenon in the event landscape. While gatherings of programmers and tech-enthusiasts back in the 70s are seen as the precursor of the hackathon, the word ‘hackathon’, and the event type that embodies the characteristics of the hackathon, appeared for the first time at the turn of the millennium. During such events, traditionally multiple teams of programmers and computer scientists come together to ‘hack’ – that is, to tackle – a specific challenge, creating functioning prototypical software or hardware solutions. The challenges can either be presented by the organisation hosting the hackathon or participants can work on ideas of their own. For example, this may be an API (application programming interface) for a particular software implementation or a solution to optimise computer vision in automated drones. Hackathons usually have a multi-day, ongoing setup (mostly 48 hours) which gives a hint of the portmanteau’s latter element, the marathon. Usually, at the end of the hackathon, the projects are submitted to a jury which deliberates on them, awarding the best projects with prizes. Next to materialistic prizes awarded to the best hackers, a hackathon rewards all its participants with great learning experiences, networking opportunities, and – as trivial as it sounds – a lot of fun.

In the last couple of years, hackathons became more interdisciplinary and cross-functional, slowly diminishing their image of events meant for computer geeks and nerds (even though this stigma still persists to some extent). Many organisations, from all kinds of domains (public authorities, enterprises, research institutions, and universities), have adopted the hackathon as an instrument, hosting such events in order to address various self-referred challenges or general ones that affect society as a whole. For example, companies host internal hackathons (for employees only) to further develop their products. Events such as these are how Facebook’s Like button or the dating app Tinder came into being. On the other hand, NGOs facilitate external hackathons (open for everyone), addressing challenges related to climate change. Inversely, there are companies conducting external hackathons for the common good while an NGO might need to improve internal workflows, hosting a hackathon to serve its own interests.

In modern hackathons, programmers, designers, scientists, communicators, prototypers, marketing specialists, etc., work side by side on a project, aggregating wide and eclectic input from different perspectives into a product or concept. In many cases, this leads to thought-out, sustainable, and creative innovations. Here lies the big potential of hackathons; they resemble melting pots of creative minds capable of producing novel, out-of-the-box solutions – a detonator of ideas. Unsurprisingly, hackathons usually support a free choice of approach in finding these solutions much similar to a skunkworks project.

Cataclysm populates cyberspace – the origin of the online hackathon

As hinted at in the beginning of this essay, the most recent break in the hackathon’s evolution was its digitalisation triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic and the resulting proliferation of virtual collaboration, the default duration which is common for a physical hackathon (about 48 hours, mostly a weekend) was not seen fit to be transferred to an online environment. Too complex and too inefficient had been the prevalent argument within the hackathon community. Then, in early spring 2020, shocked by the relatively sudden outbreak of the pandemic, governments, NGOs, companies, and academic institutions worldwide were frantically looking for countermeasures to mitigate the first wave’s impact. One of the said measures was the organisation of virtual hackathons. The idea, first realised in Estonia by local hackathon organisers, was to harvest a population’s collective intelligence in tackling challenges entailed by the crisis such as the protection of risk groups or the mitigation of health risks in public transport. It turned out to be a brilliant idea; the crisis-related online hackathons lead to unprecedented occurrences regarding public engagement. More than 28 000 people with all kinds of backgrounds and from various parts of the German population participated in the #WirVsVirus hackathon. This virtual hackathon took place on a weekend at the end of March 2020 during the first lockdown. At the time, it was the world’s biggest hackathon as well as one of the biggest online events in history. Similar events took place in other countries such as Poland (HackYeah) and Switzerland (#VersusVirus, with gluoNNet as a co-organiser), also recording overwhelming participant numbers. Despite initial technical difficulties regarding the tech infrastructure, all of these hackathons were a success, yielding a great number of projects. This was proof of the feasibility of online hackathons.

Admittedly, many of these projects stalled due to lack of quality, guidance, and/or the lack of time of the participants to pursue them any further after the lockdown had been lifted. However, a fair share of them was taken further and even accelerated; start-ups were founded with their projects still very much alive and kicking. One example being Pandemia Parliament, an online tool that aims to enable virtual balloting for parliaments, emerged from the Swiss #VersusVirus hackathon. At the moment, the young start-up is running an unofficial trail on a municipal level. Another one, called Veertly, which happens to be gluoNNets partner by now, has its origin in the German #WirVsVirus hackathon and created an online event platform that offers a vast repertoire of functions, simulating an event venue with virtual stages, break-out rooms, and other possibilities to meet up online. These are just two examples of many successful projects born in the state-subsidised online hackathons of spring 2020.

As of spring 2021, virtually all hackathon events are being facilitated online, as the virus is still among us. Since one year, dozens of online hackathons are being carried out monthly by all sorts of organisations. On-site hackathons will surely have a comeback once the world sails calmer waters. Nevertheless, thanks to their success, it seems evident that online hackathons, initially rejected in pre-pandemic times, have established their firm place in the hackathon landscape.

Hackathon 2.0 – more than just a virtual adaptation

Even though the core of the general hackathon concept remains the same, the event’s digitalisation entails ramifications not only on its characteristics and facilitation but also brings benefits and drawbacks of its own. A fully technology-dependent online hackathon, where people meet and collaborate remotely, is subject to different dynamics and peculiarities than an on-site event. Although the benefits of the general hackathon concept (innovation, learning, and networking,) persist in an online environment, their emphases change – some for the better, some for the worse. The online hackathon’s low-threshold accessibility in respect of location, time investment, and technology as well as its scalability and relatively low costs for participants and organisers alike, make it a powerful instrument to drive innovation and participation. On the other hand, being an entirely virtual affair, the online hackathon cannot offer the same learning and social experience as the physical encounter happening at an on-site hackathon. Also, collaborating on a project solely online is obviously more complicated than at an on-site gathering, especially, when it comes to prototyping. Better solutions in terms of remote collaboration, in general, need to be found. However, in the wake of the pandemic, this problem is already being tackled by numerous entities such as big companies like Zoom or Microsoft, but also small players like the abovementioned start-ups.

Leaving its shortcomings aside, the online hackathon’s benefits render it an intriguing tool for various applications in various domains. As the hackathons organised in response to the Covid-19 outbreak have shown, such events can host vast numbers of participants, operate nationwide or even globally, and can be organised in a relatively short amount of time. Additionally, these events yielded great outcomes that society can benefit from during the pandemic and even thereafter. Many of the start-ups and projects that were found during these hackathons do not only address issues related to Covid-19, but they also focus on things like remote collaboration and medical applications, creating general additional value. Therefore, online hackathons can be used as an effective countermeasure in times of crises but also to stimulate innovation like ‘classical’ on-site hackathons. The sheer number of participants an online hackathon can host potentially lead, by laws of statistics, to a fair number of promising innovations. Furthermore, the online hackathon allows the democratisation of the innovation process, may they be linked to a crisis or not, enabling large numbers of citizens from all parts of society to jointly work on solutions. From a socio-political point of view, this aspect bears a lot of potential in terms of integration, participation, and empowerment. The online hackathon phenomenon is a good example that, so far, the internet’s civic potential is greater than its current use.

Next to the public sector, other domains like industry, academia, and the humanitarian sector can profit from hosting online hackathons. On a global scale, creative minds can be invited to contribute to various causes. For example, in the shape of an online hackathon, hackers could explore the possible applications of a company’s latest software product, take part in a research institution’s citizen-science project, or support an NGO’s effort in improving welfare in third world countries. With its promising potential in driving innovation, bringing people together, as well as allowing for participation, all facilitated economically and ecologically, the online hackathon is a phenomenon worth being better understood. Consequently, for research fields like science communication, sociology, and political science, the online hackathon should pose an interesting object of research.

The evolutionary pressure exercised by the coronavirus has changed our behaviour. As a consequence, it also creates lasting effects on our culture and institutions, one of them being the event landscape. Our digital technologies allow us to stay connected and to continue collaboration in safe ways, mitigating the impact of the pandemic. Moreover, using these technologies in new, unprecedented ways opens many doors, the rooms beyond remain to be explored. The online hackathon is one of these rooms, a by-product resulting from the ongoing pandemic. One can assume that physical and virtual hackathons will coexist after the pandemic has ended. Both of them hold respective benefits and drawbacks which lead to different areas of application. Hosting a hackathon online or on-site will be dependent on the pursued goal, purpose, and requirements of its organisers. With the online hackathon, we have stumbled across a powerful instrument and applying as well as investigating it further seems promising and sensible.


This essay is a summary of some chapters of the author’s bachelor’s thesis ‘The Online Hackathon: Typology of a Hackathon Format and its Potential Application in Citizen Science’. The full thesis can be found here.

Date: Apr 29, 2021
AUTHOR: Hans Baechle