Yesterday, I got to be a judge, thanks to my colleague Jeffery Bennet aka @meandmybadself at TechCrunch’s NYC Disrupt Hackathon. From 11:00 to 1:45, a torrent of ideas (89 in all) were presented to us in (mostly) short (mostly) one minute bursts. There’s a lot to learn and glean from these events, but for this post, I wanted to focus on the idea that great design comes from problems we want to solve. Nearly all of the presentations began with a stated problem or frustration, and the frequently cited annoyances represent trends or themes.
First, though, some other observations:
a> collaboration is the new competition – lots of people were quick to share their code and five of them had their code online for use and review before the presentation.
b> coding is a(n impromptu) team sport – there were a handful of solo coders, but most of them were teams, and at least 6 on my list indicated that they were impromptu teams, having met their partner in the last 24 hours.
c> re-purposing code is a critical skill – not an insight, but to bang stuff out in 24 hours, you need to have some essentials in your toolbox before you go in – logging into other services, data parsing and storage, presentation techniques.
d> it’s possible to have presentations go smoothly – the organizers of this event put 90 presentations on over 100 PCs and mobile devices in front of the audience in less than 2.5 hours, miced all the presenters, and had a queue for previewing the next up presos. Admittedly, they were well staffed and had alpha geeks as presenters, but it still makes you wonder why so many other events struggle to get simple presentations right.
e> coding is still a boy thing – while there several women wearing geek shirts (I <3 code, and a Bazinga! shirt(!)), presenters were less than 10% female. The judges were 1/3 female.
f> hackers need to work on presentation skills – our MC was gracious about not cutting mics, but a lot of the presenters had no sense of what you can do in a minute. Well over half of the presenters wasted their first 30 – 45 seconds introducing themselves, setting up the problem, and signing on to their prototype.
Now, the annoyances -> opportunities -> trends:
1> Discovery without algorithm – People still don’t seem to find good content quickly enough on the web. This might be better stated as personalization and recommendation engines still suck. But at least ten of the projects were presented with a variant of the line: “recommendations from real people.”
2> Answers, not searches – there were a bunch of projects that focused on the inadequacy of search, Quora, Yahoo! Answers. Most of them had a similar “from real people” angle. Might be that the next step in crowdsourcing is towards more e-lancing.
3> People are pretty bored with their lives – I can’t tell if this is an insight, or the easiest out when you can’t find a more interesting problem to solve, but lots of projects were variations of the question posed by entry #58: whaththefuckshouldidotonight.com. (This might be connected to point e above.)