Wednesday, April 9, 2008

24 hours + 15 Google APIs + 45 students = ?

Last year, my colleague Jason and I were both just lowly college students at the University of Southern California. While there, we helped the UPE chapter organize a 24-hour programming contest, appropriately dubbed "P24". The contest comprised putting teams of students in our campus student center from noon-noon on the weekend, fueling them with all sorts of horrible junk food, pizza, and caffeine, and watching them hack desperately at their laptops into the wee hours of the night. Amazingly enough, the teams came up with some impressive and innovative projects (all to the tune of a "Tubes" theme).

So this year, we decided to try the contest again, but give it a twist and a new name: each project made during our "Google All-Nighter" would have to involve at least one of our numerous Google APIs. And since we didn't expect everyone to already be familiar with our APIs (apparently they're not yet taught in grade-school curricula), we spent the week before the contest holding workshops and talks about the APIs, alongside talks from UPE board members about general web development topics. Check out this page for links to all of our slides, codelabs, and even our ghetto attempt at taping the events (think "Blair Witch" style).

After a week of ingraining our APIs into the impressionable young minds of students, it was finally time for the All-Nighter to begin. 11 teams of students showed up to our campus building and made their nest for the night, surrounding themselves with Google-provided lava lamps and some going as far as making a multi-monitor setup and bringing a coffee machine (see pic).

We'd announced the theme of "Think Green" the night before, so most teams came prepared with project ideas involving the environment, thinking, or well, just the color green. They set up projects on, created design docs on the wiki (possibly spurred on by a 6pm contest for 'best wiki'), and began divvying up tasks amongst themselves (typically by designating a JavaScript lead, server-side lead, and graphics lead).

For us Googlers, the contest was just like extended coffee hours - teams would email or ping us on GTalk and ask for "maps help in side room" or "spreadsheets help needed by team geekc0ders" and we'd come running (or sluggishly crawling in the late hours) to their side. It was a great opportunity to see how novice users of our API were able (or unable) to use our documentation and APIs, and we now have a list of bug reports and feature requests from the students.

At the end of the 24 hours, I think we were all kind of anxious and wondering the same thing - would these teams of overworked students be able to come up with full apps using Google APIs in such a short period of time? As we watched them present their ideas and demos, the answer clearly became "yes." Judging was difficult, but we managed to award the following prizes:

  • Most Technical: "FaceMap" - An application that integrates the facebook API, google calendar, and google maps to help you see where your friends are and where they will be
  • Most Fun: "PigeonRanking" - A game where you play a pigeon that must shoot down enemy search engine carriers in order to find google search results.
  • Best use of Theme: "DreamBig" - A website with a Google map of endangered animals, aggregated environmentally thinking blog feeds, alarming statistics.
  • Best Overall: "ThinkMap" - A collaborative and interactive location-based internet games platform, built with the Google WebToolkit and using atleast 5 of our APIs.
  • Most useful - "Think Green with Your Cuisine" - A Maps API & LA CitySearch mashup that helps users find out both the price of a restaurant, and the CO2 waste that will result from visiting it.

All of the projects code is on our project hosting, tagged with uscgan2008, so feel free to check it out. Pics from the event are in this Picasa web album. Here's for hoping we get to hold another of these next year!

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