Contrary to rumor, Sunday proved as un-apocalyptic as any other day–although it was overcast and chillier than seems fair for May–and hundreds of hopeful hackers were hanging around the huge halls at Pier 94 for the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon grand finale.
Plenty of hackers gave up on their apps or forfeited the contest in favor of sleep or going out, but more than 100 teams made it through 24 hours of coding and emerged with a workable hack–all that was left to do were a 60-second demo and a three-hour wait. A few attendees dozed high school style, face planted on the table in front of them.
Birds twittered in the rafters (one apparently shat on a laptop) as the tired hackers blazed through their hacks in front of the VCs, tech bloggers and fellow hackers who filled about half the chairs in the enormous warehouse as well as people livestreaming the event from home. They didn’t have a lot of time. “It’s Google Alerts for Facebook” (IfAnyone?); “it’s Grindr for jobs” (WorkAround); “it’s a great tool for idiots who think they have a start-up but really they just have an idea” (BAITR.co); “Quora meets Instagram” (Peeqit); “no-hold customer service” (NoHold.co); “a reminder that your grandchildren will someday be able to read your tweets” (GranddaddyWhy). “We’re three people who built a thing,” was how the team behind Destiny Manifesto, a sort of horoscope based on menu items you order, introduced themselves.
A few themes emerged. Dating was one challenge that inspired ChicksForGeeks, a hack that let you trade introductions to attractive friends on Facebook in exchange for introductions to your friends’ attractive friends and SnatchMe.com, a Groupon-esque site that features one single guy and girl a day. SoundCheck tells you what music to expect at a venue; SoundScape tells you the decibel level. A few hacks were aimed at helping people use their social graphs to find jobs.
But the apps were really all over the map. There was a browser-based synthesizer, a Rapture-themed Twitter app that tells you which of your friends have tweeted since the last apocalyptic event, an app for making notes on people in your phone’s contacts and a hack that lets you donate your Facebook page to a non-profit. Many aren’t accessible but some are already live. One of my favorite hacks was the thoughtful, useful Joinable.org, which lets non-profits create a voicemail box and email address that homeless people can check by calling an 800 number. Just about the opposite in the amount it contributes to society was Coffee To Go, an Uber-esque mobile app which seemed like a recipe for cold coffee.
The winning app was “a true hack,” a devious and technologically impressive project that all the judges–including Bradley Horowitz of Google, Chris Poole of 4chan and Canv.as, Charlie O’Donnell of First Round Capital, Amanda Peyton of the recently-pivoted Y Combinator-hatched start-up MessageParty, John Laramie of TechStars Boulder-incubated AdStruc–loved. Gilt-ii lets you squat in Gilt Groupe’s daily auctions, holding an item for ten minutes while you decide whether to buy it, or wait to see what other users bid and arbitrage yourself a little profit.
Another favorite was Joysti.cc, “the world’s first open-source human-player controller,” which manifests as a helmet that imagines games in which human players are blindfolded and follow instructions relayed to them by teammates via a mobile app, built by Jarod Reyes and Jonathan Gottfried. “We built an API, iPhone app, website, and this video in under 24 hours,” Mr. Reyes wrote.
Their plan is to take the tech to a gaming hackathon. “We want to use it to have two computers play chess against each other using humans as pieces,” Mr. Reyes told Betabeat.
- Judge’s Choice award: Gilt-ii, flash auction placeholder
- Docracy: share and sign legal documents
- Doach: ”dating coach” that sends messages during an interaction with a member of the opposite sex a la Cyrano de Bergerac
- Dispatch.io: transfer files easily from cloud services such as Google Docs and Dropbox