2010 starts off with University Hack Day in Hyderabad

Happy new year to all Hackers! Yahoo!'s University Hack Day program kickstarted the new year in India, with a grand event at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIIT H). This institute is well known for its strong industry focus. Yahoo! Bangalore has been in touch with the professors and students from IIIT H for various research projects. Rajeev Rastogi and Prabhakar Raghavan had visited the campus and were impressed with the faculty and students alike. Muthusamy Chelliah, head of Academic relations at Yahoo! Bangalore, emphasized the interest levels in the college and how eager the students were to learn more about hacking. The nine-member Yahoo! hack day crew landed up in Hyderabad on 22nd January morning. The Yahoo! team was greeted with a huge cheer--we were overwhelmed by the student turnout.

It was an honor to have Maj.Gen.Dr.R.K.Bagga for the event kick off. He spoke about how today's society, leadership and the media are becoming more internet savvy, fueling an insatiable need for innovation and creativity. He challenged his students to participate and make their Hack U the most successful Yahoo! Hack U ever. The students responded with roaring applause and cheers. He wished success to all of us.

Yahoo!'s Jamie Lockwood opened with introductions and showed the students video news coverage from the 2008 Open Hack event in Yahoo! Sunnyvale and more videos about Open Hack. During these talks, students kept pouring in, and the environment became more and more electric. Jeremy Hubert, prototyper extraordinaire from Yahoo! Search, spoke about his hack experiences and introduced students to some cool hacks from earlier hack events. To pep up the students even more, question and answer sessions were held and t-shirts were tossed out into the crowd. Rohan Monga, an IIIT H alum, demoed a couple of his winning hacks to the students. He had a Flickr game hack that showed how something fun can be made useful. Me and Jeremy later shared the stage to encourage students to focus their hack ideas on problems they faced when using technology and internet, things they wanted to see solved, or features they would love to have in products they use.

Of the four hack days we'd conducted before IIIT H, this event was the hands-down winner as far as crowd response and student turnout. The enthusiasm made us certain that the hack day was going to be a success. After the Q & A session and a short break, I got back on stage for my talk "Get me my data". This is the 3rd time I've done this talk: it's part of the introduction focused on how to use the internet as a data exchange medium and how every resource is a data source. This talk primarily focused on two of my favorite services in the Yahoo! stack, YQL and Pipes. I showed examples of how to fetch data from various sources like XML, JSON, and even HTML. I demoed a couple of hacks and showed the audience how easy and fast it is to put something together. Some examples showed how Yahoo! Pipes can replace code for processing data and how YQL can be used to normalize the way in which we seek data on the internet. The next day morning (23 Jan), we had couple of deep dive talks before the actual hack event kicked off. Saurabh Sahni gave his BOSS talk, where he demoed how easy it is to create a search experience and how the BOSS API can be used for hacks. Rajagoal, from the Yahoo! India Maps team gave a talk on Yahoo! Geo Technologies. He focused on the Geoplanet APIs, AJAX Maps APIs, YQL interface for GeoPlanet and Fire Eagle service. Geo APIs are usually very popular among hackers. It was great to see that it was almost the same number of students turn up in the morning for the deep dive talks.

Officially, the hack event started at 11:30 am on 23rd Jan, though students were thinking about their ideas from previous night itself. Students were encouraged to form teams of 3 or 4. As the day progressed, there were as many as 65 hack ideas registered, highest among Hack Us in India. Many in the hack technical crew and agreed on doing various BOF (Birds of a Feather) sessions to help students with Yahoo! services. I did a couple of YUI talks. There was a real buzz around college with almost all hackers sitting in the allotted hack rooms in college. This made it easy to have various discussions and solve any road blocks students hit during their hack implementations. I must compliment the enthusiasm and commitment of the students who were awake right through the night focussed on their ideas. I spoke with the Hack Tech crew, and all of them loved the interactions with the students and were impressed with the questions and thinking. Geo APIs, YQL, Pipes, YUI, Answers, Local, Mobile, Speech, text processing, GreaseMonkey and Indian languages were definitely the hot threading topics. There were even couple of student groups who did electronic device-based hacks.

The next day, the Demos were suppose to start by 11:30 am, exactly 24 hours after the kick off. There were 46 hacks ready to be demoed!. This again is the highest we have had in all India Hack U events. We had 4 judges: Jeremy from Yahoo! in Sunnyvale, Professor Vasudeva Varma, Professor Vikram Pudi from IIIT H faculty, and me. Professor Vikram Pudi was actually an ex-Yahoo.

All of us were blown away by the ideas and energy of the students demoing their hacks. The IIIT H students were a smart, creative and committed bunch. Many students used mobile as a platform for innovation. One group aimed to provide best deal business quotes and summaries on the mobile. Another group was working on voice search and SMS-based search. A couple of groups used the Google Android platform to implement their take on front-ends to services like Twitter and Yahoo! finance. Many groups used grease monkey to improve the relevance and usefulness of sites by adding on features on popular pages. One group focussed on collecting and displaying collaborative summaries of web pages to a social network. Another hack tried to explore the idea of converting speech to text and again back to speech after translation so that 2 people speaking different language can communicate.
It was really hard to judge the best hacks in the demos. Every idea was unique in its own way, and to accomplish what each team had done in 24 hours is truly amazing. I think the college must feel really proud of its students.

Among the 45 odd hacks that were demoed, we shortlisted 12 hacks as the finalists. Out of the 12, we choose 4 winnings hack teams and 2 Yahoo! tech crew favorites. The 12 hacks that were finalized are.
The top 12 hacks and winners are as follows

  • RAT - Rural Area Twitter (Winner) A wireless hardware device aimed to be fit on every cycle in a rural area to facilitate viral message broadcast and distribution
  • Fun Search Hacks (Winner) A collection of 3 fun hacks, roughly based on Search. The best one was filtering of news results based on Good and Bad news. We all thought the demo was really amazing
  • Clickless (Winner) A grease monkey script to help specially abled users to convert clicks to mouse over actions so that user could just point to a link and perform action
  • Real Time Form Collaboration (Winner) A grease monkey script to create real time form editing by multiple people at the same time across the internet. Social networks + Content collaboration
  • Twitter Remind Me (Honorable mention) Using Twitter as a reminder system were one could set reminders to their friends
  • Party Rocker (Honorable mention) Based on listening interests, playlists and song choices of members in last.fm, a network of friends can create a customized intelligent song playlist that would have mixes that everyone liked.
  • BoratTool to enable writing code in any language and compile in any language.
  • Smart Wiki Grease monkey script to make the Wiki experience little more rich by adding image search, weather and other modules live on any Wiki page
  • Chez allows users to add places on a common map utility and search for places around a radius of 15km
  • NetPool A smart really useful script to pool in multiple internet connects to boost up downloading speed. 1 Mbps Wifi connection + 1 Mbps Data card connection = 2 Mbps line for computer
  • Twtr Automatic smart shortening of any message to fit the Twitter 140 character limit. 'Talk to you later' becomes 'TTL' automatically
  • Cloudy Transfer Using SMS to set up a send mail option along with options to attach a file from a remote machine
  • Fast News
  • Multi Language Search

Standing up on that stage and looking at huge crowd all fired up and enthusiastic was such a rush. I hope other colleges we go to in the future have similar response, boosting our energy to make it a fun and useful event. I must also mention that every one in the Yahoo! team loved the healthy food on campus, especially our visitors from Sunnyvale.

We had really smart engineers part of the Technical Support Crew, Rohan Monga, N Rajagopal, Rajesha and Saurabh on campus. All of these guys are exceptional technical brains and true geeks who love hacking. We had even more support on IRC, a special call out to Arnab Nandi who is the ever enthusiastic go to guy for ideas and solutions. A big shout out to Jeremy who managed to stay up all night and help the students despite a long flight and horrible jetlag.

A huge shout out to Chelliah, Teenu, and Jamie Lockwood who were the main people responsible for the event and all its success. These guys have amazing energy levels and ensured everything went off smoothly and as planned.

IIIT H has set a new benchmark for Hack U in 2010. Looking forward to the events to come. Maybe it's time to think of the ultimate Hack U challenge where winners from different colleges come together for one hack day.