Hack U (Chennai) gets hotter

Tech Crew T-shirt design for the 2010 Hack U in IndiaHack U visited The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-M) in Chennai — the land of the white dhoti, loud film posters, and tasty food — from August 13 to August 15, 2010. IIT-M is amongst the foremost institutes for higher technological education, and basic and applied research. We had heard a lot about the IIT-M students and more about the sprawling campus. Both did not disappoint.

Even before we reached the campus, there were over 180 registrations! The Yahoo! crew was hosted in the big spacious guest house rooms and welcomed by a curious herd of spotted deer in the guest house garden! The Yahoo! PR team had done a great job creating a buzz around the campus. The Yahoo! Academic relations head, Muthusamy Chelliah, kickstarted the evening with an introductory talk, followed by pep talks by the professors at IIT. Thiruvalluvan M.G, an architect from Yahoo!, presented a talk on Yahoo!’s efforts around Cloud Computing, which captured the attention of the research students.

To start off the Hack tech talks, I presented my "Introduction to Hacking" talk dressed in traditional tamil attire — a white kurta and pattu veshti. The students were pleasantly surprised to learn that "hacking" is actually constructive.

After this, Balaji Naraynan spoke about the popular YQL service. Like always, we got tremendous response for this YQL talk. YQL truly rocks.

Student participation for Tech Talks at IIT-M Hack U eventAfter dinner, students got back to have a lively discussion and Q&A session about hack ideas and APIs on the web.

Next morning, the tech talks continued with Saurabh Sahni introducing Yahoo! Social Platform and Social APIs. Saurabh focused on how the Yahoo! social platform lets developers showcase their ideas on a platform as big as Yahoo! homepage or My Yahoo!.

From our past experience at hack days, we realized that OAuth is a very important topic, so this time Arnab Nandi did a hands on talk on OAuth. He interestingly drew parallels between OAuth and the infamous Hawala token systems.

The last talk by Gopal Vijayaraghavan was on Flickr APIs and innovation with information from pictures. He is a passionate photographer and some of his demos around Flickr APIs were really cool.

Once the official hack timer started, students really got into the groove. Many discussed their ideas among their friends. Some students decided to improve their current research projects. It was cool to see the number of students doing research on data on the Web. We had students from departments like Bio informatics and Mechanical Engineering hacking away all night. Students even helped each other, and seniors assisted juniors.

As we progressed into the night, the intensity of hacking had not died down. By midnight, some students decided to head to the hostels to take a quick nap, but more than 80% of students stayed back to hack on their ideas.

The tech crew enjoyed fielding questions and finding solutions. Like always, YQL, Pipes, Search, YUI, and Geo were the most popular services among the hackers.

The next day, we had a total of 25 hack demos. (The day was special because it was the Indian Independence day.) The judging panel included two IIT professors and two Yahoos. Among the ideas demoed, the following hacks were picked as finalists:

  • SPlanner - A comprehensive trip / outing planner tool. The User Interface for this hack was very neatly done.
  • DropCrop - Organized retail of farm products through an internet auctioning system. This is a very useful and creative hack for rural India
  • News On Map - Organized news from all over the world on an interactive map of the world. They partially implemented an algorithm to fetch the top news for a given location
  • SpellyCat - A vocabulary helper. Hack to showcase new words, and really creative ways to remember the words using pictures and colors
  • Aspire - Various Algorithms to figure out a Role Model for you and various opportunities around your field of interest
  • Yahoo! Jockey - A cool idea to create play lists of Indian music depending on factors like weather and mood
  • News Line - A cool new idea to list out the various stories from the web that have led up to a particular headline. They were trying to build a retrospective view of a particular news article.
  • Desktop sports updater - A very useful idea for any sports enthusiast. This hack aimed at bringing the sports scores directly to the desktop as notifications.

The all-woman team that created 'Aspire' took the prize for Best-in-Show hack. The other winners were SpellyCat, News Line, and Splanner.

Chennai is hot and humid, but the 6th Hack U in India was even hotter!