A Hackathon Just Made Your Outside Lands Better

Article by: George McIntire|@GeorgeMcInt

Thu July 16, 2015 | 00:00 AM

This past weekend at the third annual Outside Hacks Hackathon, over 200 developers, designers, and technologists of all kinds gathered at the San Francisco headquarters web hosting company Weebly for the mission of “building something that enhances the experience for artists and/or fans at Outside Lands .”

For the uninitiated, a hackathon is an intense competition where teams of coders attempt to build an app, feature, or program in a limited amount of time (usually between 24 and 48 hours). Outside Hacks allotted its participants a total of 24 hours. One of the organizers of the hackathon Travis Laurendine says “Hackathons are like dance marathons, it's like a sleepover party, except no one is sleeping.”

At the end of the long and hyper-intense 24 hours – which left many of the coders exhausted – the judges chose the app Dave Sent Me as the Grand Prize Winner. That includes a $5,000 cash prize, an Outside Lands VIP experience, and perhaps most importantly the integration of their app technology into the Outside Lands app.

Dave Sent Me is described as a “personalized Outside Lands schedule recommender.” The user inputs his or her favorite acts into, artists performing at Outside Lands like Tame Impala, G-Eazy, and Caribou, and Dave Sent Me in return recommends similars that the user may not know about but is likely to be interested in. “We help you discover the artists you don't know yet you want to see” says Dave Sent Me team member and MIT student Benjamin Xie.

The teams were judged on three different criteria: creativity, functionality, and quality. The judges were looking for an original app that solves an actual problem with flawless execution. Teams were also required to incorporate the APIs (public data shared from an app/company) from one of the hackathon’s sponsors: Uber, Weather Underground, IMVU, Gracenote, and Pebble. Given how an array of problems can sometimes hinder the enjoyment of music festivals such as Outside Lands, a hackathon is the perfect solution to maximize the Outside Lands experience.

At the beginning of the hackathon Dave Sent Me's team actually bit off more than it could chew. Its members collectively realized that they had to downsize their operation in order to produce a working and valuable product given the scarce amount of time. “Whatever you dream in your head, cut that in half and then some, and that's what you might be able to get out.” says Xie.

Josh Constine, a senior writer at TechCrunch (one of the competition’s judges) who is very familiar with the hackathon scene, says “Dave Sent Me puts the burden on a personalization algorithm, not a person. It takes zero work to use, is easy to understand, it's easy to build into an app, and it requires little connectivity and no audio, so you can use it at a festival.”

In the end it was the app's grasp and knowledge of the intersection between music and technology that placed Dave Sent Me above the competition. “What we were trying to do with Dave Sent Me was try to get the most out of the real life experience,” said team member and MIT student Donald Little.

This hackathon project epitomizes what tech should do for music: Enhance your experience and get the hell out of the way,” says Constine.

Hero Outside Lands Art Gimbel

Photo by: Art Gimbel

Indeed, the symbiotic relationship between technology was a running theme for the weekend and its presence was as noticeable as the sound of hundreds of fingers hitting keyboards and the smell of pizza fueling the coders.

In the opening remarks, artist and social alchemist for Burning Man Bear Kittay addressed the hackers by saying, "We've got to remember that the intersection here between entertainment and technology is a really relevant space. It's been separated for a really long time, but it's not often we get together with all these brilliant engineering minds to solve some big problems right at the precipice of music and technology. Think about what a really disruptive tool you could create can be, that could really help to transform the way music and technology worlds come together.”

Travis Laurendine, who has witnessed the hackathon significantly grow since its inception in 2013, points out that, “Art is often enabled by technology. A lot of art is dependent on technology. Technology has led us to new art forms. A lot of these people who have the mind for art also have minds for tech, and vice versa. That’s why so many incredible developers are also musicians, because they have the mind for it.”

The incredibly diverse and youthful participants in the hackathon were all united by their passion for music and their drive to make music a better experience for listeners and artists alike. Greg Cerveny, a founder of music startup Groove and one-man team, created his app Dance Commander to facilitate dance parties at the festival by people holding up their phones open on his app displaying a dancing stick figure, thus inviting other festival goers to join in on the dance party. Cerveny says his goal was to give "someone a more awesome time or a really awesome experience because they engaged in a dance social circle.”

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Photo by: Garry Bowden

Team Flair set out to solve the problem of making sure Outside Landers could have enough charge to text, record, and snap as much of their Outside Lands as possible by designing a wearable solar panel integrated into your smartphone. They proved to me that despite the infamous summer fog that befalls the festival every year, the panel would charge properly.

Unlike most of the other teams, Flair were in a unique situation: Their team was observing Ramadan, the Muslim holiday where devotees are required to fast from sunrise to sundown, at the time of the hackathon. The bulk of their work occurred between the hours of 8:30 pm and 4:30 am because, as team member Danish Shaik told me, “we didn't want to go too brain heavy during the day,” and that “when you can eat your brain starts working so much better. We were far more productive at night.” Team Flair was narrowly edged out for the $3,000 prize from VC firm Binary Capital, which went to Team Zeros, and their app that built a crowdsourced light-show of sorts. 

Now that the winner has been decided, it’s time figure out the best way to incorporate the Dave Sent Me into the Outside Lands technological experience. The team working with Laurendine and Outside Lands will determine how Dave Sent Me should be featured as part of the festival’s website or the festival’s app in a way that maximizes the app's distribution and user experience.

One thing is for sure – Outside Lands is the perfect venue to present this kind of product. “We're in the biggest tech center in the world," says Laurendine. "This is the participatory way to showcase the tech. No other festival does this with tech.”