Cloud Hack

I spent a very enjoyable day yesterday in London at The Cloud Hack – a one day coding fest in which developers were invited to combine data from two or more APIs and create a cloud-based app, hosted on Windows Azure, with the chance to win cash prizes.

The event was sponsored by Microsoft, and the APIs made available to the developers for the day included Huddle, Paypal, National Rail Enquiries, and Bing Maps. Prizes were awarded for the best use of these APIs, the best overall app, and the most ambitious app.

I wasn’t competing; rather, I was there to provide technical support for anybody who wanted to use the Bing Maps APIs in their application (which, as it turned out, was almost everyone). I do find it slightly odd that, at a Microsoft-sponsored event designed to promote Windows Azure, Microsoft didn’t supply any of their own technical staff for this role… don’t get me wrong, I had a great time, and it’s always flattering to be recognised as a technical expert in the field, but I found myself standing alongside product managers and technical leads from the other partner APIs as the sole technical contact for the Bing Maps product and also basically providing a sales pitch on their behalf. Microsoft Bing Maps marketing department – I’ll be sending you my bill!

Anyway, there were some pretty good apps came out of it – although (and I’m not surprised) many teams struggled to get all the way from concept design, getting to grips with 5 different APIs, and then deploying to Azure all in a compressed day event. Some ideas included:

  • Combining Bing Maps walking directions with National Rail departure information to determine if you would make it to the train station before your train left
  • A charity event planning website that provided event organisers with event management, donation and payment options, and a map to the venue
  • A holiday planning app that created a personalised itineraryand map of activities to do in a particular location.

One other application that made me smile was “iParcel – a social parcel delivery network”.  Travellers could log on to the site and provide details of a journey they were making by train, using the National Rail API. People who wanted to send a parcel somewhere could also register and say from and to where they’d like to deliver their parcel. Huddle was used to register the details of senders and deliverers and put them in contact with each other. The sender could monitor the progress of the package on a Bing Map, and then pay the deliverer using Paypal. So that’s all 4 APIs used, in a mostly cohesive app, leading this application to win the “most ambitious” prize, even if it didn’t have fully working functionality on the day. Also, I suspect that, if such an anonymous parcel-delivery service were ever publicly released, there might be some interesting concerns to address – “…a social networking site for drugs-runners”…?!


Anyway, thanks to all the organisers and attendees – and I look forward to attending the next hack event!

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