The HackU team spent last week at the University of Illinois in Champaign. This is the 4th year there for HackU.
The enthusiasm was high throughout the week. I kicked it off on Monday night with an intro to Hack and some short examples of our various APIs including Flickr, Context Extraction, GeoPlanet, Placemaker, YUI, YQL, and BOSS.
Tuesday, Paul Tarjan talked about SearchMonkey and the Semantic Web.
Wednesday was YQL/YUI Tech Night led by Tom Hughes-Croucher where he walked the students through YQL step by step.
Hacking began Thursday night at 6pm. The hacking atmosphere was good with snacks and food for all. For some reason people had particular problems with AJAX and JSON this time around and we spent a fair amount of time explaining same-domain policy and trying to debug Django/JQuery issues since a number of students chose to use those.
In the end, we got a number of high quality hacks, and also a fairly high number of unfinished hacks, many of which never even presented. Hack Day is all about time management, prioritization, and knowing which code not to write.
The winning hack was called TaskOwl. It let you update your tasks over XMPP, email, or Web, and provided an XML-RPC API for developers to extend their services. It also had a cool Pomodoro-style timer implementation.
The second-place hack (a very close second) was News-Gen. It scrounged up news from various sources and did an excellent job generating a Newspaper-style PDF from the stories. The final look drew oohs and ahhs from the audience.
Third place went to Web Calendar. It presented what people were talking about on Twitter on any particular day in a nice calendar format.
Honourable mentions went to Music MultiTouch which was an ambitious effort to write a multitouch music browsing interface for a multitouch box one of the students had built over the summer. YQL-- attempted to do term completion on YQL queries. The concept was good, but they didn't get too far on it. Still a very interesting hack though. And the last honourable mention went to Founddit which especially appealed to Paul. It compared Digg to Reddit to see which site mentioned something first. Try it for yourself.
Other hacks included: a cool drawing tutor, which guides your strokes in order to teach you to draw. A SearchMonkey WaybackMachine. Meet in the Middle was an attempt to find a logical place for 2 people to meet, based on where they are and what sort of places are in between their locations. Try it. Campusonar tried to find nearby friends to hang out with. HackCanvas was a multi-user drawing canvas and then there was the magic carpet robot which was basically a remote-controlled patch of carpet.
Congratulations to the winning hacks and to all the students who came out. It was a fun week.