Highlights from the New York Times Hack Day

Bill Albright
Dec. 08 2010, 01:33PM EST

Nearly 100 developers gathered on the 15th floor of the New York Times building last Saturday for a multi-API marathon of hacking, sharing, pizza and beer (plus URL-enhanced M&Ms). Representatives from industry heavyweights including Google, Facebook, Flickr and Tumblr were joined by indie hackers, makers, and tech talent from NYC's growing startup club.

Michael Donohoe of the Times Developer Network said that the purpose of the day was to turn the spotlight back onto the individual developer. "Our goal was to bring together a wide audience to have fun and build stuff. We've been able to attract some notable figures from the major companies to sit alongside individual hackers, and see what happens. This builds on the great response we had to the four TimesOpen conferences." See our coverage of the previous Times events on Geo/Mobile and Big Data.

The hacks were not so much about dazzling technology (although there were feats of fast JavaScript, rapid-fire Ruby, and Kinect cracking) as they were a demonstration of the driving motivation behind many products big and small - something is bothering the hacker. This should work better. I want to be able to do it this way, and wouldn't it be cool if...

The applications were all over the spectrum - political, playful, productive, and purposeful. The full list of winners is described here in the Times summary. Some notable entries:

Re-Hydrate from Balance Cooperative and Axel Anderson V gives information about cholera prevention in several languages, with sharing functions in SMS and email along with collections of recent articles and maps about the disease.

CommentZoo sprung from the brilliant realization that comments from N.Y. Times articles (and internet comments in general, no doubt) would benefit when mashed with photos of baboons, toy poodles, Sasquatches, or other denizens of the jungle, from Greg Estren.

The Hackiscan prototype uses a Kinect and the 'hollow-face illusion' shown below for a fig-leaf commentary on TSA security, from Liubo Borissov - see the full video explanation.

Freze.it from William P. Davis is a wayback machine to conserve individual web pages with an URL shortener, was inspired by a controversial rewrite of an article on Defense Department media coverage.

Most influential N.Y. Times articles was built from bit.ly, Twitter, and Facebook, from Alexander Sicular.

Trippy gives you just enough to read on your commute, by calculating the length of your trip (using the HopStop API), getting reading selections off of recommended links from your Twitter feed and then estimating the reading time to fit the commute, from Al Shaw, Erik Hinton, and John Keefe.

The Image Waterfall application overlays Newswire API comments onto Times Arts section images.

Travel schedules of the MLB teams is a Google Maps V3 visualization of the distances each baseball team had to travel last year, which could be used to correlate against the next day's results, from Paul Robbins.

NYT Recently Highlighted discovers quotes on Twitter that use the Times new highlighting syntax and visually arranges the flow of news snippets, from Jeremy Singer-Vine.

A tool for instant contextual information around a key term in a Times article was built using PHP, JavaScript, and the Times Topics API, from David Erwin

An expandable card-based dashboard that combines APIs from Twitter, Google Analytics, Bugzilla, Gmail and others tames a scattered information flow, in Ruby from Robert Cooker, Adrian Kokobobo, and Sudhakar Reddy.

A crowdsourcing project, using the Facebook API for the social graph and the Times APIs for the content, supports a group to collectively research topics, using Ruby on Rails from Volkan Unsal.

The day also featured API sessions from all the major players (here are Yahoo's slides). Those talks and the spirit of tech geek camaraderie left the hackers feeling quite happy.

Bill Albright

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