1. August 9, 2013

    Hacking away this weekend

    As the Summer of Arcade (or Winter of Arcade for those of you down under) is heating up, some of us are spending good chunks of our weekends on the Xbox instead of at beaches and parks. But we’re also making time to feed our creative engines at hackathons.

    Take, for example, the Clean and Green Hackathon kicking off this afternoon at the incubator space RallyPad in San Francisco. Sponsored by President Obama’s nonprofit organization Organizing for Action, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NanoSatisfi and others, this hackathon is a prime opportunity to explore green data/APIs and create innovative approaches that combat climate change.

    Across the pond on Saturday, dozens of software developers, designers, and UX specialists will be hacking the Pearson Eye Witness Guides API at the ycitesee Hackathon & Design Jam at startup accelerator & coworking space Innovation Warehouse in London. The goal? To create the next generation of travel apps using points of interest, travel, and activity data for nine popular city destinations. In addition to the full day of hacking, the free event will be raising funds for the Kumasi Children’s Home & Orphanage in Ghana.

    At ChallengePost, our mission is firmly rooted in the belief that software makers are transforming our world. We’re interested in challenging people to solve problems and build awesome software, whether that’s through a software competition online or at a hackathon in person. So wherever you are, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved — check out a great hackathon, bounce ideas off of talented individuals, and build something cool.

    Back in June, on the National Day of Civic Hacking, developers at Hack for LA were welcomed by none other than Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am. That’s the cool thing about hackathons. You never know what you might end up building, or whom you might meet.

    To the software developers heading over to the Clean and Green Hackathon in San Francisco, I gotta feeling, that tonight’s gonna be a good, good night.

    Everyone else, what will you be doing this weekend?

    Software developers, designers, UX experts, and technologists: sign up to hear about our latest software competitions and hackathons at ChallengePost.com. If you’re interested in throwing one, we’d love to hear from you.

  2. April 18, 2013

    Apps challenge tips from three-time ChallengePost winner Aaron Coleman

    What does it take to win an apps contest? Hear from Aaron Coleman, who took home the $25,000 “Best Overall App Grand Prize” and the City of San Diego “Best Innovation App” in the AT&T San Diego Apps Challenge with his iOS app Street Report. Aaron also had the opportunity to meet former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra at the White House after his team’s Food Buster game won “Popular Choice Award for Best Game” in Apps for Healthy Kids — a competition by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.

    He has since founded his own software company, Small Steps Labs. We sat down with Aaron recently to catch up.

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    Congrats again on your wins, Aaron! What advice do you have for software competition participants when it comes to crafting a great submission?
    Start early. The things you’ll sacrifice by waiting are some of the most important parts of the submission.

    Like what?
    People who wait until the end of the submission period to submit might not have a nice UI, a good video that tells a story, or the time to get beta feedback.

    Tell us more about having a nice UI.
    My 6th grade history teacher, Clarence Hall at DeMille Middle School, taught me a valuable lesson I keep to this day. I handed him a history paper I had worked hard on, he looked at it, looked at me, and handed it back. “This is a B paper, max.” Astonished, I asked, “How is that? You haven’t even read it yet?” Mr. Hall responded, “You have no cover, no title page, and you stapled it. It looks like you didn’t put your all into this. Take it home and make it look nice and I’ll read it tomorrow.”

    The same is true for your app — if you nailed it on functionality, take a little pride to add some graphics, make an icon, play with subtle colors and gradients (no “programmer art”).

    What’s your secret behind making a good video?
    A good video tells a story. It’s not the story of how you made your app, it’s the story of how users will use your app and their lives will be better for it. Shoot some footage, and mix that in between your app screens. Also, don’t do all footage without a demo of your app — it feels like your idea didn’t come together so you’re glossing over it with good video. One-third footage and two-thirds app demo intermingled feels right.

    How much time did you dedicate to beta testing your ChallengePost submissions?
    Both of my apps were done with beta testing one month prior to the deadline. While there isn’t time for lots of re-dos, some beta testing revealed a couple of small tweaks that made a world of difference.

    Any advice on how to come up with “the big idea”?
    Think about big problems with simple solutions for end users. A simple to use app doesn’t mean there is less to do, it usually means there is more to do. With Street Report, the idea was that by stopwatch, a user could snap a photo of a pothole, graffiti, or any other street issue and in 10 seconds or less have a real preliminary work order submitted to the city. Anything more involved wouldn’t realistically work.

    Figure out something you can do that no one else likely can. In my case, the first thing I did was that I fired up an HTTP composer and figured out how the existing HTML form for the city street issues worked, and built the entire app around the discovery that I could mimic that. It wasn’t documented anywhere, nor is that always possible or known, it just happened to work. There were 5 other similar looking street apps, none submitted directly into the City of San Diego Street Division, but instead composed an email that city officials would likely put on the back burner before opening and transcribing it into an official work request.

    Any other tips for software developers thinking about entering a ChallengePost competition?
    Sometimes the prize isn’t the prize, it’s the publicity. Expect that just entering your app might give you publicity for something else you do or want to do. Be ready to capitalize on that. I had job offers, freelance app gigs, and people asking me to sign NDAs (on new projects) for more than a month after both contests ended. I started my company, Small Steps Labs that same year. As a software company, having won two competitions and a trip to the White House has been an assurance to clients that I can execute. I didn’t capitalize on the second as much as I could have, but lesson learned!

    Interested in entering a software challenge? Find fun and rewarding ones at ChallengePost.com. Also, check us out on Facebook and Twitter, and join the conversation.

    By Samantha

  3. April 5, 2013

    Holla back to HackLolla ‘12: Mobile app Falcon, one year later

    About this time last year, ChallengePost ran HackLolla 2012, a competition from the organizers of Lollapalooza that challenged developers to create software apps to help music fans get the most out the Lollapalooza experience.

    We followed up with one of the challenge participants, the team behind mobile app Falcon, to see what they’ve been up to since then.

    Hello Falcon team! It’s been a while. Tell our readers — what exactly is Falcon?

    Ali/Matt: Falcon is a navigation app for festivals and events. It’s great for college campuses, outdoor experiences — pretty much any type of event where walking is the main way of traveling.

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    How does Falcon differ from say — using Google Maps?

    Ali/Matt: The biggest differentiator is that you don’t need cell service to navigate with Falcon. Of course, you’ll need to have cell service to connect with your friends, or even access the Google Maps API, but the basic navigation function works without coverage. That’s because we rely on GPS coordinates, not cell data. That’s the primary reason we went with compass navigation as opposed to an overhead view.

    Falcon just uses your geographical location, so as long as your phone has identified the GPS location of your friend, stage or tent, it can tell you which direction you need to go. You can get there even if service is spotty or nonexistent, which is the case at a lot of these huge music festivals. I mean, Burning Man is literally in the middle of a desert.

    How did your participation in HackLolla help you on your journey?

    Ali/Matt: It pushed us to set a deadline for building our app and meet it. It also pushed us to take the initial prototype we had developed for Coachella, improve on it and get the next version out before Lollapalooza 2012.

    Any advice for future ChallengePost participants?

    Ali/Matt: Just go for it. You have nothing to lose. Just set your sights on something you want to create and that you feel passionate about and go out there and find out all the information you can to make it happen — scour the Internet, call people up, struggle through it and you’ll find an answer. As long as you don’t quit, you’ll get to where your goal is.

    That’s a great quote.

    Ali/Matt: It is, isn’t it? We’d also suggest submitting your app early. It’s kind of a trade off, because you want to have the best version of your app up there, but submitting early definitely has its advantages. You just need to find the sweet spot.

    So what’s next for you guys?

    Ali/Matt: The next big thing in the pipeline is enabling Bluetooth. So if your phone is transmitting a Bluetooth signal, it broadcasts a unique ID that’s registered to your phone. Your phone’s Bluetooth would pick up any Bluetooth signal by you, but Falcon would filter out everyone but your Facebook friends. That way, users can find their friends and share things with them without relying on the overcrowded cell networks at festivals.

    Aside from that, we’d like to start bringing in some revenue and as soon as we have the opportunity to fundraise, develop an Android version of the app.

    Oh, and we’ll be submitting to HackSummerStage, of course!
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    Well, we’re excited to see where Falcon will be one year from today. We wish the Falcon team all the best!

    Check out more challenges like Hacklolla at www.challengepost.com/discover.

  4. March 21, 2013

    Software developers & policy enthusiasts unite! Suggest data and create apps to get government to stop fighting, start fixing.

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    We’re thrilled to launch the Apps for Working Government Challenge to highlight innovative apps that make government more transparent and effective. Along with partners Sunlight Foundation, Personal Democracy Media, The Monkey Cage, and No Labels, we’re inviting software developers to enter new or existing applications that can help reduce partisan gridlock and increase legislative productivity at the federal, state, or local level.

    Software developers, policy enthusiasts, technologists, as well as anyone invigorated by the potential of technology and the Internet are encouraged to join our discussion to share relevant data and solution ideas, and create web, mobile, or desktop apps in one of these two categories:

    • Educational tools: Apps that visualize or analyze data to illustrate the problem of partisan gridlock, legislative productivity or lack thereof), and/or related consequences.
    • Solutions & action tools:  Apps that citizens can use to communicate with legislators or mobilize other citizens, or tools that legislators can use to advance collaboration.

    Why are we holding the Apps for Working Government Challenge?

    There are a lot of frustrated Americans who want their government to be more productive. They also want to be able to make informed decisions based on hard data rather than rhetoric or ideology. We’re excited to introduce this challenge as a way to empower regular citizens to enact change in their government. It really gets to the root of people using their talents and harnessing technology to make government better.

    Why apps?

    With the U.S. federal government careening from one crisis to the next, citizens are increasingly frustrated with the government’s inability to get things done. We can’t solve this problem with software alone, but we can harness technology to educate and empower both citizens and lawmakers to make government more transparent or effective.

    “People hate gridlock and want government to do something. But people also disagree about what exactly it’s supposed to do — which is precisely what creates gridlock,” said John Sides, Co-Founder and Contributor of ‘The Monkey Cage,’ a blog about political science and politics. “This competition offers an opportunity to address this fundamental tension and generate innovations that can educate and enlighten citizens.”

    What’s in it for you?

    • $5,000 in cash prizes for the winning apps
    • Opportunity to brainstorm with policy and tech experts, and get feedback and improvement tips on your app if you submit it by May 1, 2013, the early submission deadline
    • Opportunity to get your app noticed and judged by a distinguished judging panel
    • Placement on the challenge website for all eligible apps

    How can you get involved?

    1. Register for the challenge.
    2. Join the discussion: share relevant data, existing apps, and solution ideas.
    3. Get inspired: explore data/APIs and app examples.
    4. Create an app, or enter an already available one.
    5. Share this meaningful competition with a friend.

    Submissions are being accepted from now until June 19, 2013. For full challenge details, visit http://AppsForWorkingGov.ChallengePost.com

    We hope you’ll join our discussions and/or create an app that help get government working!

    Like software challenges? Discover more on ChallengePost.com. We’d also like to invite you to join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

    By Samantha

  5. October 2, 2012

    Grand Prize in ETS Assessment Games Challenge goes to browser-based game Equations Squared

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    On Monday, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the world’s largest nonprofit educational testing and measurement organization, announced the winner of the ETS Assessment Games Challenge, a competition for game developers and educators to create K–12 math assessments in the form of computer games and mobile apps. 

    The Grand Prize went to Equations Squared, a browser-based equations-balancing game for fifth through ninth grade math students. Players earn points in the game by solving math equations. The more complex and interesting the equation, the higher a player’s score. Students who demonstrate high levels of learning are awarded merit badges. Students earning low scores earn demerits, which indicate where they may be struggling. 

    The creator of the app, Paul Gestwicki, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Ball State University who works on games, fun, and learning. He dedicated his summer to creating Equations Squared, and for the last few years has been working on other educational games with Ball State students and faculty members.

    Professor Gestwicki shares his challenge experience over on his blog: detailing how Equations Squared was coded, and why he decided to spend his summer creating. It’s a great read. Check it out, then explore Equations Squared, a fun-filled rendition of the modern day math test.

    We invite you to follow @ChallengePost on Twitter, and join us on Facebook.

    By Samantha

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