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Feb 16, 2011 | Speek Hackathon Wrapup

It’s a bit on the late side, but better now than never. This past Saturday I participated in Mashery’s Speek API Hackathon in San Francisco. I found it by searching Google for “hackathon”, as I knew I had Saturday free and was contemplating going to the Science Academy for a day of fun. Hackathons always get me excited, however, so with about 53 minutes remaining on the Eventbrite signup, I opted in.

Waking up early on Saturday is not my forte, and certainly not waking up at 7:30 in order to catch an 8:30 train. From the San Francisco Caltrain station, I meandered by bike to 25 Kearny (which Google still has as Mashery’s address) until I found out they had moved to Market Street. No bother, though, given it’s about a block away.

Speek Hackathon
Photo courtesy of Delyn Simons.

There was already warm breakfast to be had there, and after getting all set up, I started the ideation and prototyping process. At the TechCrunch Hackathon back in September, I had already decided upon what to do with my team-mates, but owing to J’aime Ohm‘s success and the fact that she had done her complete needfinding and ideation onsite, I was inspired to do the same.

Mashery is a startup (of sorts, though they have big traction with companies like BestBuy and Netflix) that provides APIs to companies who want to extend their core product to other platforms (like Netflix and Boxee, finally!). One of the newest APIs is Speek, which I liken to a flexible conference-call version of Twilio, and the hackathon was designed to promote Speek.

After playing around with it I talked to hackathon judge Danny Boice, who had the idea of being able to record memos easily just by pressing a giant button on an app. (I wasn’t trying to curry favor, I promise!) Leveraging that idea with my recent work in lifelogging (CS247 – Human Computer Interaction design studio at Stanford), I figured it would be a nice way to encourage lifelogging by allowing people to record anything, including significant events, concerts, surroundings, memos, and have it all easily stored and accessible by email, Facebook or Twitter. One of my fellow hackers, Alex, was also developing something similar, and so it was nice to be able to bounce back ideas and workarounds. Primarily we were both involved in having the conference-call be a one-way conversation (a conference call for one!) so we had to wizard-of-oz certain things along the way.

I had much of the framework in place around midday, using a combination of PHP/mySQL to build the API calls progressively. Along the way I managed to get banned by Facebook (for making too many Facebook Connect calls), spam my Twitter follower’s streams (they kindly mentioned it to me on Monday) and go over the API call limit. In case you’re interested, one of Facebook’s approaches to reinstating your account is to have you recognize five of your friends in three pictures – it doesn’t help that you’ve tagged a flower pot as your friend, however!

It was definitely a nice touch to have a direct Gchat-line-of-communication with the developers of the API, though given that they knew exactly what was going on with every API request I made, I would be interested in finding out what they thought we were up to.

After lunch (pizza!) and some code fixes I began work on the UI. I knew I couldn’t be as efficient with PhoneGap or native code as web-app design, so I gave up on being particularly fancy and used simple iPhone browser detection to process different stylesheets. I also tried fancier approaches to Twitter (bit.ly links) and Facebook (attachments to Facebook Stream publishing, so that an embedded mp3 would play right on Facebook) but alas those efforts were in vain. The fact that I was able to get going with the Speek API by midmorning is testament to how easy it is to deploy.

After dinner (pad thai) and an hour extension, the hackathon was over. The other hackers made a) SpeekRoulette (a fantastic idea and certainly the funniest, given that you could ideally just connect with anyone in your contact list completely randomly, or pair two together randomly) and b) an anonymous Valentine messager, which was most definitely a timely hack. A trip to the Mashery watering hole Otis Bar afterwards was a good cap to a long day of hacks. All in all a fun day – I think I wouldn’t have had as much fun if it weren’t for the people who participated and judged, and it was my first experience with VOIP APIs. Can’t wait for the next one – I think the hackathon bug has bitten again.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 at 12:44 am, EST under the category of Coding. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.