November 14, 2011

Top Ten Mashups from the #Reinventlocal Hackathon


Over the weekend of November 5th, American Express OPEN Forum hosted a best-in-class Hackathon in NY. It showcased that innovation and creativity can be put into action and actually ‘ship’. Not to mention, in only 24 hours time.

To put it simply, I was blown away. After seeing the teams form organically on day one, to witnessing the rapid-fire elevator pitches and demos on day two, I realized the world of development has entered a new chapter. We are now in a Mashup culture, where the ingredients to your software are open APIs, and your imagination is the real-time blueprint.

Hats off to all the developers for making this a memorable event. Here are my top ten favorite projects, and why.

1. “This app finds all the complimentary drinks, meals, and deals in your area using the Foursquare API “ Problem: Cash-strapped consumers want to find the best deals available on Foursquare. Solution: An easy to use app helps find the most relevant deals and freebies in your area. I would consider this the killer app. What makes this implementation unique is that it is relevant to current events. The Occupy Wall Street movement (#OWS) is top of mind in the news today. Thus, striking a chord with the “I am the 99%” population. But it is also fun, and very useful. I would categorize this app as having a solid personality with a short and sweet UX that accomplishes a simple task. Some other projects that were presented at the event were too complicated and not understood easily in their pitch. This was chosen as the Small Business Owners Choice award. There is news coverage for this app on: MSNBC, CNN, YAHOO, PCMAG, and LIFEHACKER

2. “This POS tool allows customers to quickly purchase produce with a Bluetooth enabled scale that connects to a well-designed website and experience for customers and merchants." Problem: Local farmers need a faster POS tool that accurately prices their produce. Solution: An interactive POS tool, with an integrated scale enables SBO Farmers an accurate way to sell produce, and drive loyalty and accept donations. I find this app as an indicator of a new trend: hardware-based hacking. Incorporating a Bluetooth weighing mechanism into a POS tool (that was built in 30 hrs) is nothing short of inspiring. Once only about apps and websites, hackathons are beginning to see the integration of real-world devices and peripherals. This brings a new set of challenges for developers, but solves the problems of SBO’s in a new and unique ways. Even if the pitch was a bit rough for the team, the Farmtab hack is one of the most unique projects due to its ambitiousness, and thinking out of the box. Think beyond the app!

3. Wandermapper “Analyzing your Foursquare data, a sim-city like world is created that describes your past activity, and gives you an understanding of what to do next. The page is a ‘fingerprint’ of your personalized Foursquare activity, which you are then free to share with others. Problem: How can I share my experiences, and help curate my activities with friends and family? Solution: Create a virtual world that celebrates your experiences in a fun and inviting website, that is shareable and drives awareness to businesses and activities. This is a beautiful implementation of the Foursquare API. Visualizations are all the rage, but turning your data into a virtual world is even more brilliant and inviting. With such an amazing look and feel, it has a real viral potential, and some ‘sizzle’ for SBO’s. The other components include becoming a guide, and curating your content. In turn, driving foot traffic into storefronts who seek similar experiences. I see this as just scratching the surface, and has a lot of potential if more gaming dynamics are introduced.

4. "The best deals on the best stuff optimized for where you live & work. At, each residential and office building gets its own webpage with a food ordering/delivery platform, customized deals for nearby stuff, and a social feed” Problem: How do I find information that is relevant to my building? Solution: A Hyper-local tool that uses a variety of APIs to deliver nearby deals and information. This app is an awarding –winning implementation. Before diving into the standout features and why it’s unique, it’s important to point out why the Buildingly team was successful. Hackathon teams form organically, and this 6-person team was close to perfect. Instead of a developer-only team, Buildingly existed as a micro-agency: a designer, a strategist, a UI expert, a back end developer, as well as a terrific presenter for the pitch. This well-oiled team allowed for an efficient and well-resourced project. Each facet of development is covered, and the results truly show for it. As for the tool itself, this is a well thought out experience that covers off on all the best-of-breed APIs, in a consumer friendly package. Looking at your building/address as micro-community proves to have its own culture, surroundings, and personality. What a great way to reach potential customers.

5. “ helps you find any available power outlets nearby, via crowdsourced information! Small businesses can benefit by creating a marker for themselves on the site, luring people into their doors to charge up their devices” Problem: My phone is out of power, where can I recharge my phone? Solution: A tool that geo-locates the best power charging venues (aka small businesses), and in turn introduces new customers in your store. I would categorize this as another great app with personality - a sense of humor, and also great utility. In addition, the pitch was well executed and fun. This goes back to team formation, and how important it is that you have animated speaker, clear setup, clear problem, and a clear solution. From a SBO perspective, the challenge is to attract new customers. In the past, WiFi access has provided the magnetism into brick and mortar stores. This has changed now that everyone virtually has 3g, 4g, Wi-Fi, or an aircard. The real need is A/C power, especially since we are in a gadget (battery hungry) world. Some challenges, however, involve building this vast database on a micro-scale. How many outlets are in a single building or address for instance? Nevertheless, this is smart concept that could drive new foot traffic into your place of business.

6. InstaQ “A browser for local venues using the photography uploaded to Foursquare. Incorporates large screen slideshow format with pause, next, and previous controls.” Problem: Text heavy user experiences of Foursquare don't drive venue attendance and business. Solution: Pull the rich media content out of Foursquare to make an experience based on visualization, and a more immersive experience. InstaSQ is a rich-media centric use of Foursquare. For users that embrace an experience that is highly visual, and feels ‘large’ in format – this app would work very well. A terrific platform for this type of app would obviously work on an iPad or an Android Tablet.

7. “An entertaining way to decide who pays the bill while eating out. The better your skills, the better chance you have at scoring free grub. Integrates with restaurant data, as well as your payment details. Problem: How do you decide who pays for dinner at a local business? Solution: Play a game to decide who gets the bill, in an entertaining and fun method. This is a terrific implementation of bringing game dynamics into the real world (just as Foursquare has done). Instead of flipping a coin of who handles the bill, participants try their at a fair-and-square win. They utilize a terrific nostalgic font that works well as a mobile app, and integrates with real-world menu information. This has some potential of being on a Microsoft Surface table that could integrate into a Small Business POS tool – wow, I would love this. The novelty of deciding who pays could drive loyalty to a SBO’s restaurants if this was a standard tool in their dining facility.

8. Eatpager “Explore great restaurants near you. Built using Foursquare and NYC government data.“ Problem: What restaurant should I go to tonight, and does it have sanitary conditions? Solution: Combining data and Foursquare, quickly explore your next place to dine in a fun way. Eatpager is one of the most visually inviting tools that mashes up government data, Foursquare, and rich media. The standout component of this project is a pivot on how you view your data, all while complimenting it with more relevant information. From an API perspective, this is well executed. The NYC health scoring for a venue bolsters the usefulness of this app. Again this would be a terrific tablet app due to its large photographic look and feel.

9. Hooky “Why hooky? Because sometimes you make a last minute decision to go have some fun. hooky is the friend who can tell you how best to spend 20 minutes or 3 hours in their neighborhood. It’s not about planning ahead - it’s about going with the flow AND getting guidance on a great, locals-only experiences” Problem: What do you do if you have some time to spare suddenly? Where to find the best thing to do? Solution: A tool that gauges the amount of time you have, Geo-location, and desires to deliver an uncluttered suggestion of what you should do now. This is an excellent of-the-moment tool. A perfect example of ‘relevancy marking’ where you are taking advantage of a customer’s emotional standpoint/motivation. The mindset of the user is perfect for mobile, and has a great utility if executed properly. This app has a great design, and proves to save you time and energy wtih a straightforward interface - that again, has some personality, and simplistic call to action. More apps that take advantage of your emotional and motivational position will definitely drive adoption, purchasing, and participation out of your customers. These situations that are “in-the-moment” have a very short shelf-life, but are the most powerful moments in time that can show positive response rates due to its extreme relevance.

10. Fresh Tomatoes “With our patented Review Aggregator(TM), you get not 10, but 1 holistic overall score that averages the review scores from all the source sites for restaurants” Problem: Too many reviews of restaurants, who do you trust? Solution: Aggregate all the reviews into one simple score to drive faster decisions. This concept never made it into a living/breathing app, but is a great example of a concept that has legs, and follows the ‘deep trend’ of simplification and aggregation of vast content. Where I find this app most unique is driving customer behavior in a simple way. Crowd-sourced reviews are so vast, and can overwhelm a decision. An aggregated model, proven by the movie site Rotten Tomatoes, makes decisions easier – thus driving purchase behavior and activity. A good ‘riff’ on the Rotten Tomatoes implementation. Well played.