Student Coders Do it Live at HackNY Hackathon

Source: Charlie O'Donnell (@ceonyc)

The HackNY hackathon is the most realistic New York hackathon in recent memory in terms of what can be built in a weekend, attendees told Betabeat over and over.

Students from NYU, Columbia, Juilliard, Rutgers, University of Pennsylvania and Brown, running on bagels, ice cream and a few hours of sleep presented rough drafts of applications Sunday including a virtual reality xylophone, location-based chat, personalized recommendations from Netflix Instant, a website that tells you what ice cream shops are nearby, and two derivatives of the game Balderdash.

So what can be built in a weekend? The first prize for the NYU-hosted event went to the Etsy Shopping Network, an application for the Boxee set-top box that displays Etsy listings with big pretty photos on your television built by Adit Shukla (NYU), Doug Fulop (NYU) and Eric Seidel (City College). The app was limited to “window shopping,” the team apologized, and you couldn’t actually buy anything or bookmark items to view later from your computer. The team was also unable to show the app on an actual Boxee due to technical difficulties.

About half the projects presented ran into some technical difficulties, whether it was a broken function or the limitations of websites or A.P.I.s they were trying to use. BalderMash pulled up a page of broken images and had to end their demo prematurely; two-time HackNY winner Ian Jennings borked his app Boostt while watching the presentations and begged the organizers to let him demo last as he furiously tried to fix it. One team didn’t finish and skipped the demo entirely; plenty of teams pulled error pages while demo’ing code that worked a second ago.

But hey–this wasn’t some slick affair like the Foursquare hackathon or Music Hack Day, where most participants were seasoned hackathon veterans, many of whom came in with fully-developed apps and spent their time adding a feature or tweaking the interface. The HackNY hackathon is 24 hours of pure hackery where students, including at least one who said he knew nothing about Javascript or web development at all before the event, build programs from start to finish–or, you know, close.

The Etsy Shopping Network, however, is available for download on the BoxeeBox.

Besides being student-focused and un-intimidating, the HackNY hackathons are unusual in that they are focused on building on the platforms and services of New York-based companies, such as Hunch, Foursquare, Boxee, Aviary, Etsy, Yipit and Hyperpublic. Foursquare and Hunch were the most popular A.P.I.s used at the hackathon.

Come @ Me Bro, an app for starting fights on Twitter.

The panel of judges, which included Fred Benensen, Chris Poole, David Tisch and Chris Dixon, took more than 20 minutes to deliberate before deciding the winners were:

First prize ($500) — The Etsy Shopping Network, a Boxee app that displays the full Etsy catalog on your TV.

Second prize ($250) — WebGL Filters, an app that uses the WebGL (web-based graphics) library of Javascript to do fast in-browser editing comparable to Photoshop or Aviary.

Third prize ($100) — COME @ ME BRO, a Twitter app that uses the Hunch A.P.I. to figure out who you should fight nearby based on your taste in movies.

Honorable mentions:

PlayAR — An augmented reality app that lets users play an invisible xylophone or drum machine using a webcam, computer and their hands.

PlayAR, an augmented reality app.

RageRacer — An app that turns your iPhone into a Wiimote and a racing game to demonstrate that capability.

Print That for Me — An elegant little app that lets students crowdsource the printing of documents. Upload a paper, request a print, set a meeting place, and promise to pay $5; other students will see the request, print the document and meet you with it. The list of documents could be sorted by location.

Best use of “a bunch of A.P.I.s” — DeaLocos, a location-based dealfinder that uses Hunch to figure out what deals you’d be into.

Best Use of Machine Learning — Student, a demonstration of how a few lines of Javascript can let you teach a computer patterns from the browser.

The “sex, drugs and dungeons and dragons” award — Mugshot, which creates an animated .gif of a student who drunkenly stumbles into the bathroom after a night of revelry, to embarrass them into behaving better.

Here’s roughly where Betabeat feels the winners fall on the hackathon Approval Matrix. It’s fair to say most of the hacks presented tended toward the ‘unmarketable’ rather than ‘monetizable’ end of that spectrum–it’s interesting to see that the judges picked so many practical applications, but still gave a lot of credit to hacks that were pure fun.

Full list of hacks is here.

HackNY is an internship program that hooks up computer scientists with New York City start-ups including, Buzzfeed, Aviary, OKCupid and Knewton, now going into its second year. It was founded by NYU professor Evan Korth, Columbia professor Chris Wiggins, and data scientist Hilary Mason. The 2010 class of fellows is raising money–$9,001, a reference to the “over $9,000” meme–on Kickstarter. “This summer, hackNY is sponsoring twice as many Fellows this year, and we want to make sure they have as great a time as we did,” the project says.

Student Coders Do it Live at HackNY Hackathon