While the rest of us were having our usual Saturday nights, hackers from the New York City metro area and from far away places, like New Haven, Philadelphia, and something called Boston, coded away the night at NYU’s Courant Institute for hackNY’s biggest ever hackathon. Their results were presented Sunday to a packed house in one of the longer demo sessions I can recall sitting through at a hack event.
Nothing like a hackathon to make you feel that you could have accomplished more in the last 24 hours. After about 20 or so demos, I felt like I had to crash–exhausted just thinking how much hack energy went into some of these things.
Founded by a few New York University and Columbia professors (Chris Wiggins, Evan Korth, et. al), hackNY has a goal to encourage and empower student technologists. Think of it as trial run for say TechCrunch Disrupt or SXSW.
One of the themes I picked up on is that with a few content feeds, and a Markovian randomizer algorithm, you can create almost convincing but mostly amusing broken prose. Acid-trip-bot, EssayBeefer, and Nonsense and Sensibility fit into this genre of synthetic English. As a marketing consultant, I was a little fearful we’re close to solving the automatic generation of marketing glop.
I also liked To.day, which is a somewhat useful hack that analyzes current headlines–using Parse.ly–and graphically displays top keywords as a bar chart that can be drilled into.
And did I mention they’re were a lot of Tumblr hacks? Thank you Dashbored for making me believe that scanning filtered Tumblr posts and animated gif files is a credible form of entertainment, probably more interesting than my usual TV fare. TumblrTop for displaying Tumblr posts in a convenient and graphically appealing 25 per page format. Tumblr Times for explaining the news–courtesy of Parse.ly–in terms of Tumblr posts. And TumblTopic, for making a game out of guessing the keywords associated with a Tumblr picture.
I suppose in the future, Tumblr will become our new universal form of communication, something like what Esperanto was supposed to be.
On a purely nerdy note, I dug ncnyt for bringing New York Times posts into an ncurse’s editor. Graphics are converted into ASCI-images, circa 1970s. You’ve breathed new life into old editors! And Fourthquare achieves nerdvana through its Lisp wrapper–get it?– around Foursquare APIs.
I thought Give a Little was a useful idea with a social conscience. This app automatically donates to a fair-trade group (or any other charity described by a series of rules) when you check-in via Foursquare to your favorite coffee bar or organic vegetarian food spot. Any charities out there looking to boost revenue, check these guys out!
Enough of my thoughts. The judges gave this year’s best hack to Cloudspeaker, which remotely grabbed all our mobile gadgetry to create a crowdsourced speaker system. They also agreed with me on Nonsense and Sensibility, which took a silver medal, and Musicgallery received a bronze.