UC Berkeley’s Hearst Museum of Anthropology has the world’s largest and most important collection of California Indian artifacts; a new web application by School of Information students aims to make the riches of the museum’s collection available online, to support teachers and learners, and to connect Native Americans with their own cultural heritage and history.
The new app is called Yapi Kapi, which means “remember your story” in the Lakota language of North Dakota. Yaki Kapi won the grand prize as the best overall app in this weekend’s “HackTheHearst” hackathon, as well as the heritage award for its benefits to Native American tribes and heritage communities.
The app allows users to explore over 700,000 items from the museum’s collection; users can navigate an interactive map to discover artifacts from different tribes throughout the area and build a personal collection of favorite items in their “satchel.”
Yapi Kapi also provides special tools for teachers and students; teachers can create a classroom account with individual sub-accounts for each student, relay assignments to the sub-accounts, and view and comment on students’ artifact collections. Yapi Kapi aims to facilitate learning through hands-on exploration, aligning with the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Eleven first-year MIMS students joined forces to work on the hackathon; the team was made up of students Gracen Brilmyer, Brian Carlo, David Eicke, Pi-Tan Hu, Sindhuja Jeyabal, Carlos Lasa, Nikhil Mane, Aditya Mishra, Anand Rajagopal, Stephanie Snipes, and Ellen Van Wyk.
The students brought a range of skills and backgrounds to the project, including computer science, art, journalism, design, user experience, web development, project management, and museum experience. “It was the first hackathon experience for most of us, so we didn’t really know what to expect,” said team member Brian Carlo. “We all felt like we were learning new things, but also pitching in with our own unique skills.”
The eleven team members are all in their first month in the school’s MIMS program. “As the week progressed, we kept finding moments where the project overlapped with topics we were covering in our I School courses,” said Carlo. “We were applying what we’re learning about databases, algorithms, APIs, web servers, web design, graphic design, UI, UX, project management, information architecture, and more.”
“Over and over, team members kept thinking, ‘This is exactly what we came to the I School to do!’”
Team member Gracen Brilmyer agreed. “With such a large group of people, it was amazing how everyone worked so hard and was so excited by it,” she said. “Everyone joined forces to make a great project together. It was really phenomenal.”
The hackathon kicked off on Wednesday, September 10. Over the intervening eleven days, 154 participants worked on ten different projects related to the museum’s collections; an API gave teams access to the museum’s complete digital catalog. The teams reconvened to present their completed projects Sunday, September 21; after the finalists’ presentations, the judges awarded the I School students the hackathon’s grand prize.
The team intentionally built the app to be as modular and flexible as possible, to make it possible to add additional data sources or new online tools or new ways of visualizing or exploring the collection. “When talking with the hackathon mentors and judges and the museum staff, everyone had ideas for tools that could be added on to the app and ways it could be expanded,” said Brilmyer. “That was really on the forefront of our mind when we built the app; we definitely wanted it to have room for expansion and flexibility. ”
Although the contest is over, the team is still putting some final touches on the Yapi Kapi web app; they're hopeful that the museum will be able to release a production version of the system.
“For me, the hackathon was really memorable,” said Carlo. “If we’ve been able to do this kind of work in only our first few weeks, it makes us excited for what’s ahead in the next two years.”