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Looking back at the Techcrunch Disrupt Hackathon


The idea behind the hackathon was to turn an idea into reality in 24 hours. Well at noon Arpit, Gabo and myself were still trying to figure out which one of our ideas we should work on. Luckily, when we checked in we came to a consensus. We settled on creating a commenting platform that would be site agnostic and simpler to find relevant content. The full concept includes integration with blogs and sites replacing their silo-ed system with one that helps spread the word and lowers the bar for participation. Obviously, the full package couldn’t be completed in 24 hours so we focused on building and testing the basic concept.


We got off to a rough start, plagued with technical glitches and an overloaded wifi. Since our project, called Yatr (pronounced yatter), was using a number of web based API’s the wifi’es were kinda important. As the night went on our table mates decided to call it quits, as did others. Despite the late hour and reduced numbers there was still a energetic vibe in the room. No doubt the cans of Red Bull and endless coffee had something to do with this.


When the sun started rising my eyes wanted to do the opposite. Thankfully a quick walk outside helped me get my energy back. At that time we were wiring up the designs to the back-end and dealing with some minor bugs. So we were feeling good about making the 9:30 deadline. By the time 9:30 hit I was busy working on the presentation and making sure I could explain our work within 60 seconds. An hour later we piled in to the auditorium (of sorts) where each of the teams sharing with the world what they’ve been working on for the previous 24 hours.

The first one out of the gate was Docracy, a online way to validate legal documents. Very cool idea and definitely set the bar for both concepts and delivery. Not surprisingly they were also one of the winners for the day. Sixty nine teams later it was my turn to present. Almost no one likes presenting to a crowd let alone trying to do so while compressing 24 hours into 1 minute. Since I had been practicing for a while I felt ready. Still 60 seconds is both forever and over in an instant.

Yatr didn’t win, but it’s not just about winning. Instead, we walked out with a working product and a architecture to take it to the next level. We also got a chance to see what other people feel strongly enough about that they would spend 24 hours working on a solution for. There was some really great projects beyond the few that got called out on TechCrunch and exhausted or not staying for all the presentations were just as rewarding as making Yatr into a working product.

UPDATE: If you would like to know more about Yatr, see how it works and why we did it check out Arpit’s post Yatr: Our hack for the Techcrunch NYC Hackathon.

Week in Links: Land Grabs, New Territories and Stats

The big news of last week was AOL buying Techcrunch. I first read it on GigaOm and it was followed up with a ton of tweets in the morning once it went public at Techcrunch’s Disrupt event. Less shocking they also bought Brizzly and 5min, picking up all three for @ $100 million. The funniest tweet I read about the purchase “TechCrunch: The sound you hear when you break those AOL CDs you got in the mail.” Hopefully this doesn’t mean the beginning of the end for Techcrunch.

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After the new AppleTV was announced the other set-top devices will need to increase their offerings if they want to compete. Last week Roku and TiVo announced they would be supporting Hulu Plus, a premium subscription service for $9.99 a month. There has already been support for Netflix, also subscription based ($8.99+) which provides instant streaming of content across multiple platforms. So why Hulu? Hulu Plus has the latest TV shows while Netflix covers the back catalog. It won’t be long before Hulu Plus makes it’s way to the other internet connected devices but for now it’s Roku and TiVo which isn’t a bad place to start. Personally, I think Hulu Plus is a step back for the consumer. As Hulu Plus expands what’s available for Hulu’s ad supported content will shrink. Especially when the Plus still comes with ads.

Then there’s Google TV, who launched their website on Monday and officially throwing their hat into the ring. Some of the big features include a full web browser, ability to show TV and web at the same time (PiP), “Fling” from your phone to your TV, and expandability via the Android app marketplace. Below is Google’s promo video giving a quick walk-through of it’s features. If you’re looking to figure out which set-top device is for you check out this comparison chart.

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After looking at the newTwitter via my coworkers and screen shots, I finally got to play with the newTwitter myself. It’s a much improved experience, it rivals that of some third party apps though it’s not enough to make me switch. Other then bringing the web app back to the web, the newTwitter is smartly designed. With relevant info displayed directly next to the content it relates to. One complaint is conversation view as it only shows one step of the conversation at a time and requires you to keep clicking in order to read the entire thing. Another is it took me forever to find the URL to a specific status (it’s the publish date). There’s keyboard shortcuts that is a huge perk for power users. One thing I didn’t know was that it’s design is based on the Golden Ratio.

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Interesting data coming out of LukeW’s Data Mondays, this time around it was about the disproportionate activity that comes from iPhones. With only 4% of the global market the iPhone is 33% of the world’s mobile browser activity. See these and more on his post. Though I’m sure Android will start sharing some of this traffic as it’s market share grows. T-Mobile will be annoncing their G2 phone and Samsung’s Galaxy line is already wooing people. If you’re looking for an Android phone Gizmodo has a quick flow chart to help you figure out which one is right for you.

Weekly Recap: Kinetic Type, Hearses and Change

While neither V for Vendetta or this kinetic typography are new, this animation was new to me this week. You can check out 14 additional kinetic typography pieces based on popular movies at Inspired Mag. Rocky and Nick the Greek were also contenders for this hero spot.

Also typography related is The Big Web Show’s episode 18 where they speak with Roger Black, co-founder of Webtype, an online font foundry that also hosts the fonts for use in your CSS3 based designs. Besides having some really nice fonts, I love their browse options.

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Google offers instant results because 2.5 seconds is too long for users to wait for results. It seems crazy that such a small amount of time would make a noticeable change in user behavior but Google has stats that prove it. Years ago it was based around the number of results to display based on the difference in milliseconds to return those results. Today (last week) Google added instant results to cut this number down even more. According to their blog post this could save the world 11 hours every second.

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Earlier this month Twitter posted stats on third party app usage and it showed that by-and-far most users use the Twitter website and mobile site, followed by Twitter’s own branded apps. The third party apps are only used by a small (but active) percentage of their users. This could be why Seemic, who just announced the launch of Seesmic Desktop 2 (SD2), is focusing increasing their support for additional web services (RSS, YouTube, Zappos). Some of this support is through their new plug-in architecture. For a quick overview check out TechCrunch’s coverage of the announcement.

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Big changes at Microsoft. Stephen Elop, President, Microsoft Business Division, has left the building to become CEO of Nokia. In an unrelated note, the Redmond campus celebrated the (manufacturing) release of Windows Phone 7 with some black humor, a hearse and a parade. And what parade would be complete without doing a scene from Thriller. Though I’ve been impressed with what I have seen of Windows Phone 7, it’s has a huge uphill battle to live up to the hype of this parade.

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UX Magazine had an interesting editorial on converting the URL bar into a form of navigation/breadcrumb system.  There are some good concepts behind the potential use of the very static and possibly foreign component included in every browser. Some things needed for this concept to become a reality is out side of the browser’s control, though you can see signs that the browsers are starting to go in this direction.  For example, in Google’s Chrome browser has implemented a system that bolds the domain and grays out the rest of the URL info. Though somewhat random when it occurs, Chrome also boxes out a website when you’re entering your search/URL. To see it in action type “google.com anyTerm,” it does this for other sites as well, but not always and I’m not sure why or when.

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Ending this weeks review with some fun. Take a bunch of animated GIF’s and synch them up with Girl Talk’s spliced samples and you have the making of an Internet Meme du jour…Cache Rules Everything Around Me by Evan Roth

Week in Links – the future today

One of the big events of last week was Y Cominator‘s Demo Day where 30+ companies showed of their technology in hopes for securing additional funding. Last week’s Demo Day was so big it took 2 days, if you couldn’t be there TechCrunch gives a run down of a few of the presenters.

  • If you have Gmail, then you might want to check out Rapportive‘s browser plug-in. While viewing your email it’ll provide a sidebar full of the contact’s profile including various social services and CrunchBase. At the bottom of the sidebar is an area to add personal notes for the contact. It’s a simple addition but could be priceless once you start using it. For more see TechCrunch’s write up.
  • As a UX lead finding out how users are interacting with a design is invaluable. There are a number of new solutions out there providing inexpensive remote testing options. But eye tracking has required use of specialty equipment. Even though we have one where I work it’s a huge hassle and the whole process makes for a very artificial environment. GazeHawk‘s offering may change all that as it uses standard webcams. Additionally, offer a service to use their network of participants to test your work. For more see TechCrunch’s write up.
  • There was even stuff for the couch potato in all of us, Teevox showed off their iPhone app. It’s a remote control for watching Hulu and Netflix videos on your PC. The app’s UI is simple and straight forward and even better is there is nothing to install on your PC in order for it to work. I encountered a few crashes on my 3G, but that seems like standard behavior with iOS4, so I can’t fault them on that. Fore more see TechCrunch’s write up.

The merger of TV and PC is getting closer everyday. Working in the industry it’s all to clear where things are going so it was interesting to read TechCrunch’s somewhat harsh editorial on the full-on assault being staged against the cable companies. In the TechCrunch editorial they get the gist right but fails to keep in mind that not everyone is as technically inclined as the TechCrunch audience. With that in mind cable TV’s convenience, flexibility and overall simplicity (despite the poor UI of their set-top boxes) will keep it alive for years. They followed up the editorial with some put things into perspective for anyone outside the industry.

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Ok, this one’s title alone made me laugh last week, Twitter’s not stupid – you just have boring friends. Andrew succinctly states for those that think “Twitter is inane, pointless, time-wasting or just narcissistic bleating only means either a) the people you’ve chosen to follow are the wrong ones; or b) you’re expecting something from Twitter it’s not offering: passive entertainment.” Still, Twitter isn’t for everyone.

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The patent war continues. With the Oracle’s suit against Google people hypothesized that it was the patent war to end all patent wars…well last week Microsoft’s co-founder, Paul Allen (via Interval Licensing) launched his own patent lawsuit. The list of patent violators named in his company’s lawsuit covers just about every major web player out there sans Microsoft and Amazon, as noted in FastCompany’s coverage. On first blush the patents in dispute seem horribly vague and undeserved as Amazon’s “one-click” patent.

Other news that doesn’t include Google being sued for patent violations include their addition of Google Voice into Gmail.  Though I’ve read that due to high demand there has been some issues with Voice, but I’m sure that will be address shortly. In the meantime, enjoy Google’s little promo video.

Yahoo! launches an experimental search engine with a knowledge of history. Seems like an interesting concept, was a little awkward to understand the search results so I’d like to see where they go with this one.

Speaking of too little, too late, MySpace is finally getting on the Facebook bandwagon with their new Facebook status syncing feature.  Even though this is only the first version, it’s kind of funny that it only goes from MySpace to Facebook, which would require you to actually go to MySpace in the first place. Ironically, I went to MySpace for the first time in over 18 months in order to watch this video promoting their new profile editor. It features Steven Slater, JetBlue flight attendant that went off in a rage on a customer. It’s actually entertaining, smart and even makes a self deprecating reference to being dominated by the FB.

Had enough, if not Mashable has a Weekend Recap: 15 Stories You May Have Missed. Lastly and completely random is a list of 24 things you might be saying wrong.