Music Hack Day SF 2013 Recap

This weekend we hosted 175 hackers for Music Hack Day San Francisco in our office for the third consecutive year. Music Hack Day is a unique event—it doesn’t use huge prizes or big name judges to draw a crowd. It’s one of the rare Bay Area hackathons where (seemingly) most attendees actually aren’t local—giving it a fresh vibe, with new faces and ideas every year.

Last week I wrote a post that called for more hackathons to be purpose driven—Music Hack Day is not one of those of events. Instead, Music Hack Day is an event driven by a desire to learn and a shared passion for music. These types of events are, without question, very good for the hacker ecosystem, and Music Hack Day is a shining example of how they should be run.

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Saving the hackathon

It’s fashionable to be cynical towards hackathons. There’s too many of them. They exploit developers. They rarely have useful products come out of them.

Even if you’re not a cynic, at some point you have to wonder—why do the overwhelming majority of hackathon projects die succinctly and unquestionably following the event? It’s often a foregone conclusion for the hacker—go to the event, try to win the prize, and then go back to your job the next day.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Most of the time people go for fun. It’s a good learning exercise. As a first timer, the sheer novelty of it all gives you enough energy to power through an entire weekend.

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OpenTok User Diagnostic Tool and Library

A number of developers have asked for ways to help end users diagnose potential problems that disallow them from being able to successfully video chat using OpenTok. A while ago we introduced a troubleshooter page that test a user’s network, hardware, and software to check things like ports, camera, and Flash version to be sure that they have what they need in order to use OpenTok.

While this tool has been useful for diagnosing problems, one obvious pitfall is that you have to send your users to our website—away from your experience.

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Keeping our cloud afloat during Hurricane Sandy

There’s irony in being a cloud provider when a major piece of your infrastructure lies below sea-level. Of course, the premise behind the cloud is that you never have to think about the underlying physical location of your servers. If a flood were to happen in a critical network hub, say New York City, it should in theory have no impact on a cloud service (because, you know—clouds are in the sky).

As Hurricane Sandy forecasts came in, our ops team began to consider what impact it might have on our service. We had two options: A) keep our NYC servers as they were and hope that power and connectivity would remain intact, or B) take our NYC servers out of rotation and direct that traffic elsewhere.

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AOTW: Covify

As a developer, there are many things you can do with an image: filters, face detection, object recognition, and more. Last week, Covify, an app that uses image recognition to scan music albums and add them to Spotify, won the Next Web Hackathon in Amsterdam.

Covify takes advantage of a lesser known feature of OpenTok, the getImgData() API, which captures a base64 representation of the image on your webcam. Covify used this call to grab the image from the webcam, then send it to their servers to scan it and identify which album it is, then return to the user a link to add the album to Spotify.

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Chatroulette on iOS with node.js, socket.io & OpenTok

We’re going to create a implementation of chat roulette that works on iOS devices. We’ll use OpenTok for handling the video streams, node.js for the webserver, and socket.io for messaging.

In a previous tutorial, I covered how to build chat roulette on the web using JavaScript. This tutorial will focus on how to build it for iOS. Both the iOS and web app will be able to interoperate with each other.

Check out the web version of the app here.
Check out the GitHub repo here.

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iOS Developer Contest

The OpenTok iOS SDK is now available! We’re kicking it off with a developer contest to see what kind of new, creative projects the community comes up with. Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Second screen coviewing
  • Video social discovery
  • Remote real-estate tours
  • Real-time hot or not
  • Video dating
  • Mobile customer service

The top 3 apps will each win an iPad 3.

All apps must be submitted by May 6, 2012 at 11:59 PM Pacific Daylight Time.

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Using video customer support on our launch day

When I tell someone that we make an API for video chat, I always ask, “Can you think of a use case?”

Every time, without fail, I get the same response: “So… like for video customer service?”

In practice, few companies we’ve spoken to get excited about video customer service. It’s hard to see what value video brings in most support scenarios. Do customers really need or want to see the person on the other end? Are customers comfortable on camera? Is it worth the overhead for reps to be manning a video support queue? We aren’t sure.

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Rise of the Hack

I didn’t know it could be someone’s job to attend hackathons. I hadn’t heard of a developer evangelist before, so a year ago when I stumbled across an opportunity to become one, I was drawn by its novelty.

The mission was to build a developer community from the bottom up by saturating the hackathon scene, gaining allegiance from the early-adopters, the enthusiasts, the hackers. The kind of people who geek out over a new JavaScript library, smother their MacBook Airs with stickers, and maintain wardrobes consisting primarily of startup t-shirts.

If the goal is to build a business on an API, were hackathons the place to start? I wasn’t sure. The tactic seemed so niche. But hey, if someone wanted to pay me to travel and build weekend hacks, that sounded fun to me.

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Hacking Hollywood

Man, these hackers in Hollywood sure know a good API when they see one (*cough*, OpenTok, *cough*). I’m kidding, but I am genuinely thrilled about the uptake of OpenTok at this weekend’s Hollywood Hack Day.

I arrived Saturday Morning at Ashton Kutcher’s office in West Hollywood for day one of the hackathon. I was pleased to see that there were lots of developers and chocolate chip muffins. I spent the first couple hours getting acquainted with both.

I had come to the event thinking I was going to hack on a jeopardy game. Janine Yoong, who was attending Music Hack Day in Boston, was conspiring with me to build a jeopardy game that would mash up APIs from both events, and that way we could submit the same app for two different hackathons, and win all sorts of prizes. It was a genius evil plot.

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