Wow, what a fantastic week! Just got back from beautiful Salt Lake City after 5 days attending the DisruptFilm Summit. My friend and I were invited by a member of the Collective organization (we met her at the ATT Dev Summit hackathon just a week prior!). She was the technical organizer of the first-ever HackDance hackathon as part of the Summit in Park City, Utah. The summit started off with the 2 day hackathon.
Unlike all my previous hackathons, this one was organized quite differently. The hack was a social good hackathon bringing together celebrities in the film industry with entrepreneurs from the tech industry. The celebrity leaders brought their world-changing ideas and we hackers brought our technical chops. The idea being that unlike the typical hackathon-winning idea that gets stalled, the winning teams can actually continue working with the celebrities to gain a wider exposure to their product. After some great intros, we finally joined the SecondGov team led by Golden Globe winning musician Alex Ebert. He had just won the Best Original Score for All Is Lost soundtrack. Talk about a great mentor!
Let’s get to the hackathon itself. In the end, there were about 7 teams in total. My team consisted of myself, my serial hackathon partner JeanCarl Bisson, and a young couple Dru Clegg and Kyle Clegg, Dru a designer and analyst, and Kyle an iOS and Android developer. Since JeanCarl and I share full stack web dev skills, this was a great complementary team. As usual, we had plenty of great food and snacks to keep us going through the day and night.
The idea of SecondGov was to create an online virtual government that aims to mimic the aspects of a real government but removes all the bureaucracy and inefficiencies in our real government. Talk about a big idea! I was quite interested in SecondGov as I had already had a similar idea of a Kickstarter for government policies (with the public starting and supporting any policy or person). We were all excited to be hacking on this awesome idea. We started by figuring out what the concrete features would be.
Fundamentally, as a true democracy, in SecondGov, all people should be able to propose ideas and have everyone vote on them. I proposed a Stack Overflow and Reddit style interface, thinking the familiar interface would resonate with users easily and promote discussion. Our core interface would allow easy creation, up/down voting of proposals, up/down voting of comments independent of proposal votes, and user reputation ranks.
Dru got cracking on a great Bootstrap based UI (she had even built her own Adobe Illustrator components ready to use). We went with a card based layout for our home page to quickly highlight the top proposals and user profiles. We kept the colors and visual clean and light to promote a tranquil and collaborative atmosphere.
But we felt there was something missing, we needed that just one thing to make our site truly interactive rather than seeming more of a discussion site. We realized we needed to add elections! While I worked on the core HTML5/PHP website, JeanCarl got Tropo SMS integration working and we quickly had a live SMS and mobile web voting system. Now this was getting exciting.
Plantronics was again a hackathon sponsor at this event, and they brought with them their new headsets with motion tracking. I got the idea of having our mobile app respond to nods of the user’s head to quickly vote on proposals. As the SDK supported iOS only, Kyle was the man for the job. In the end, we had a great looking iPad app whose only input was shaking your head! I knew this would be an awesome demo.
Needless to say, after 48 exhausting hours of hacking, we were ready to get the pitch done. Luckily, we had Alex on our side and in just a couple hours or so, we pieced together a tight story and got in several rounds of practice pitching. Getting it down to the 5 minutes limit was tough considering our 4 part demo: intro, web app flow, SMS voting, and iPad live voting demo. Of course, as usual we avoided the slides.
Wow! Our pitch went perfectly, Murphy’s law was on our side this time. The judges asked some great questions. One of them was regarding how we bring the virtual government intro reality. I had thought about this earlier and was quick to explain that SecondGov could tie into the current government’s change.org platform (after they expose an API!).
At the award ceremony, SecondGov won the grand prize for the Social Innovation track! The award came with a cash prize as well as a potential investment from the Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center. We also took home some sweet gear for winning the Plantronics sponsor prize.
After the craziness of the previous 2 days, we finally had 3 days to ourselves before JeanCarl and I took the train back to SF. We made the best of our time enjoying the Sundance Film Festival. We watched a film screening for an amazing documentary Finding Strong, listened to a mind-blowing speech on leadership by the TED speaker and author Simon Sinek, and enjoyed the skiing scenery atop the St. Regis hotel. Down in Salt Lake City, we toured Temple Square, heard the choir at the famous Tabernacle, and went up the tallest skyscraper for a sweeping view of SLC. Finally, we had a peaceful and scenic journey back to SF on the California Zephyr.
All in all, this was the best hackathon experience I have ever had!