Cleanweb Hackathon: A First for the Industry Signaling a Future Full of Innovation

Just over a week ago, I was part of a Tendril team that spent a weekend at the first ever Cleanweb Hackathon at the pariSoma innovation loft space in San Francisco.

And what a weekend it turned out to be—for developers, for the cleanweb community and for the future of innovation in this industry that is just beginning to be unleashed! We left more enthused about the potential for innovation in our industry than when we arrived, and were awed by what was created using our platform APIs in less than 30 hours. I really feel like I was part of a pivotal moment in the development of the cleanweb.

For the uninitiated, hackathons are events were developers get together for a few days to a week to build collaboratively, creating new applications and programs. Many of the applications found on Google and Facebook, for example, are the results of hackathons.

The Cleanweb Hackathon, however, was the first hackathon that we’re aware of that was devoted solely to creating apps to address environmental sustainability issues (energy, commuting, food distribution, etc.).

The hackathon came on the heels of our recently announced Tendril Connect Platform Application Developer Program and it turned out to be a great place for us open our APIs and give datasets to the vast talent and creative minds at the event to see what people would build on our cloud platform…and we weren’t disappointed. In fact we were amazed and even humbled by the creativity and collaboration that we encountered—which we feel bodes well for our industry, the future of innovation and environmental sustainability.

It was a jam-packed weekend that began with a happy hour on Friday night, followed by the actually “hacking” which began Saturday morning and concluded Sunday afternoon. Sunil Paul, a well-known Silicon Valley startup veteran from Brightmail and one of the hackathon’s organizers, kicked off the event with inspirational words on technology’s capabilities to give consumers information and control over their energy choices, among other environmental improvements we would soon see come to life. We were given a chance to present our APIs and datasets and with that developers were off and running.

The next 30 hours were largely fueled by caffeine, sheer dedication and drive from the developer teams, and a fun atmosphere of collaboration and competition.

People came together in teams around cohesive ideas, forming 14 teams total, including a Tendril team, and got to work late that morning… and worked and worked until 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. The energy was amazing, and developers jammed out to Feist, Ben Gibbard, Metric, The Shins, Pinback, Phoenix, The Kooks, Faces, Guster, Tegan and Vampire Weekend.

Team Tendril Works on Energy Battle App

Around 10:00 p.m., the Tendril team (of Greg Hengeli, Jacob Kaufman-Osborn and Greg Schoeninger) had been full-time coding since about 10:00 a.m.– with no signs up stopping work on their app, Energy Battle. (I heard they got a bit of sleep around 2:00 a.m.). Two other developer teams used the Tendril APIs for integration into their hack: TACO (Total Cost of Ownership) and Dr. Wattson.

Tendril was able to talk to a number of talented people and network with like-minded companies. I got the chance to get to know the folks from Genability, a San Francisco-based company that has created a platform that aggregates energy price programs from across the country, which proved to be valuable to all three teams using Tendril’s APIs. The teams mashed up Tendril’s residential usage data with Genability’s price programs to create comparisons, geographic heat maps, and games in their final products — a great example why open developer programs make platforms successful.

Around 1:45 a.m., I headed back to the hotel to get a few hours of sleep only to return by 8:00 a.m., where I found a few dedicated souls still awake from hacking through the night. By lunch, the place was hopping again with teams finishing up, and grabbing (delicious!) food when they could. Conversations were few and far between, except for the occasional:

“Did you use this API? How did you get it to work?”

“The docs aren’t quite right; do this to hack around it.”

“What exactly are the judges looking for?”

By 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11th– the 14 teams’ applications were in. Several opened a beer (finally, overtaking caffeine consumption).

Before judging began, the teams had to pick up their table work areas, which reminded me of being 9 years old again: “Clean up this mess right now, or else!” Except, instead of bed-sheet forts and Lego towers, it was stacks of pizza boxes, collections of beer bottles and piles of candy wrappers, while folding ping-pong tables, deflating air mattresses and untangling Mac book power cords. And there were still a few folks madly banging on keyboards to write that last line of code.

Presentations to the judges began at 5:30 p.m. and each team had five minutes to present their concept and (hopefully) running code. I had the honor being a judge along with Yves Behar, founder of Fuse Project, Lew Tucker, Cisco, James Joaquin, Partner at Catamount Ventures, Sunil Paul, Spring Ventures, Scott Zimmermann, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Alex Newman, Opower. I also presented the Tendril team’s Energy Battle app (which I recused myself from judging). While Tendril’s team didn’t win, I got “are you shipping this now?” after the event.

Judging was extremely difficult, and every team did an excellent job of utilizing resources, putting creative thought behind the purpose and problem they were trying to solve, and executing well beyond what 30 hours would normally yield.

We were totally impressed by the applications developed in just 30 hours and it’s proof positive of something we’ve long believed at Tendril: if we provide an open standards-based platform, that is scalable and secure and provide developers with the APIs, they will produce innovative applications.

Presentation from Developers of Dr. Wattson App

You can see for yourself the creative applications that were developed over the weekend. GigaOm webcast the app presentations and here’s a list of the apps created:

1. CommuteScore - Bringing your commute into the energy equation
2. Dr Wattson – Sleuthing out a better energy plan
3. EnergyBattle – iPhone app social game in energy (and created by the Tendril developer team!)
4. FreshList – RealTime local Food Sharing
5. GreenScore – How green is your neighborhood
6. GroMunity – Community gardening open market
7. Kijani Grows – One aquaponics farm per family
8. TACO – Product efficiency including lifetime energy cost
9. Tarzan – Trip planner/calender that includes info about sustainability and transportation in real time with traffic data.
10. Task Turtle – Slow & steady wins the race! CrowdSource tasks, if you’re not in a hurry, and wanna save $$
11. Tomatoe – Making sense of state data
12. Tread Greenly – May your products tread gently and sustainably…
13. Toxicslayar – Revealing the Toxic Trail, augmented reality layer to visualize toxic chemicals
14. WattsUpWithMe – Energy Choices Made Easy

A big congrats to TACO for winning the prize of Best Overall App from the judges, to Dr. Wattson for Audience Favorite (counted by tweets) and Sexiest UI from the judges! All the teams were amazing, and the developer team here at Tendril can’t wait for its next hackathon!

I also want to give a shout-out to the organizers of the event, including Sunil, Blake Burris, Suchi Sharma and Julian Nachtigal. They knocked it out of the park and we’re excited by plans to organize the next Cleanweb Hackathon later this year in New York. Who knows, the Larry Page or Sergey Brin of the cleanweb may be out there, just waiting for the next hackathon!

We can’t wait. In the meantime, if you’re itching to build an app on our platform, you can enroll in our app developer program here.

Eric Shiflet, Ecosystem Segment Manager