YHack Post Mortem

I went to Yale this weekend to participate in a hackathon called YHack. Yale is probably the farthest I would travel for a weekend hackathon. YHack is the second hackathon I attended this year with the first being HackMIT. The hacking atmosphere was great. We arrived a little late and we couldn’t get settled before the opening ceremonies which was annoying but fortunately the ceremonies were fairly short and we got checked in and found a place where we could work. Like HackBeanpot we had a room to ourselves. This helped tremendously in reducing outside distractions. We basically just coded for hours on end, took a 15 minute break, and then went at it again.

For this hackathon we basically created a platform to conduct AMAs over Twitter. At first I wasn’t on board with the project because I wondered why would people use this platform if reddit works pretty well for AMAs. After looking at it again there are few issues with having all question/answer based interactions happen on a platform like reddit. That is why we created a question/answer based interaction platform based on Twitter. We wanted celebrities or other famous people to be able to interact with their fans through a site they already know people use. They have tons of Twitter followers so why not leverage their existing follower base? This is where The Fireside comes in.

The Fireside is a site that aggregates tweets at a certain user based upon a certain hashtag. However this is fully built upon Twitter and people who want to ask a certain person questions can do so directly through Twitter and not have to use our site at all. Say you wanted to promote your movie Rampart. You would login to Twitter through our site and start a new fireside chat. You can then choose a start and end date for the fireside chat and a hashtag like #Rampart. Our site would then tweet on your account that you are holding a fireside chat between the times you chose and also use the hashtag. Questions that were tweeted at you would then show up on the admin panel on our site. Those questions would be ranked in descending order using the amount of favorites and retweets they have. This way people could vote on what tweets they would like to see answered and the person running the chat could see what tweets people want them to answer.

A person who wanted to ask questions could also come to our site and browse fireside chats that are currently happening. If they select a chat to view they would then see the highest voted tweets and would also see tweets the person running the chat had answered. They could also login to the site and send a tweet to that person right on the page. Basically our site can be a centralized location for people with large Twitter followings and for people who want to ask those people questions. However we didn’t want to force people to rely on our site so everything that you could do on our site you could also just do through Twitter and it would still display completely fine in our site. We also wanted people answering questions to be able to answer a question using more than 140 characters. We would allow them to do that through our site and then tweet a link to the long form version of the answer on our site.

I actually worked on getting Twitter authorization working, getting the user view of the site working, and mostly prettified the create a new fireside chat page. We used flask (Python) to handle requests and then built the UI on Bootstrap and Pure. Of course we used the Twitter API as well. I almost never code in Python so this was a great experience to learn some Python. I also rarely touch HTML5 and JavaScript. I rarely touch JavaScript because I am pretty sure I hate it (C# foreva) but it was nice to be able to work with unfamiliar things. I am going on co-op next semester and it would be nice to learn HTML5 and JavaScript in a work environment. For the first time I felt like I actually contributed something worthwhile in a hackathon even if it took me a while to get it pushed (much to one of my partners annoyance).

I am super fucking looking forward to HackBeanpot sometime in January or February (or March) of next year. Hackathons are a great way to learn new things and are just really enjoyable events. Meeting new people, learning new things, and seeing cool hacks are all so worth it even if you miss out on sleep for a weekend.

TL;DR – My feelings on hackathons – 10/10. A++. Would hack again.