Floxx Hackathon: LIVE

Social network Floxx is hosting a mighty hackathon. The aim: to dream up, develop, design and launch an app in 24 hours? Can they do it? Check back every two hours for updates.

by Stu Bradley
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Floxx (nee Fitfinder) took the London university scene by storm in April 2010. The idea: to upload sightings of hot students across campus. Earlier this year, the site was rebranded as Floxx, with the focus away from 'babe spotting', to settle instead on simply connecting people using geo-location. This is their pre-Christmas hackathon.

2pm

Hello there! I’m one of the team at Floxx Media Group, and this is the live blog of our 24-hour hackathon. We’ve all been working hard on our new app, Spottd, that we released yesterday and this is our way of blowing off some steam before taking a break over Christmas.

A confession? We were going to start this hackathon pretending we were coming in cold but actually have a really good idea already in place. This morning, about an hour before things kicked off, we realised we’d forgotten to come up with the idea. Oops.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, we’re now spending some time brainstorming. Hard. Hailed as a ‘return to our roots’, we’re thinking about how and why things go viral – sites like Facemash, Fitsort, Take This Lollipop and Intel’s Museum of Me have are all mentioned in the first few minutes.

Despite our initial thought that Twitter is probably the best way to facilitate a viral spread (yes, we’re being careful not to say ‘go viral’, because we all know that’s impossible), a lot of things that have recently become very popular very quickly have used the Facebook API. Well, except for Benton.

One of our developers is keen to try his hand at building a Facebook app, so ideas start moving from there. Eventually we settle on an idea for something called (provisionally) First 5 – this pulls data from Facebook to show you things like your first five friends, the first five events you attended, the first five statuses you posted etc. From here, it’s up to the devs set up an environment, while the graphic designer and I get to work on coming up with a name, design etc.

4pm

Ok, so this update is coming over a little late as it was unanimously decided that a team Nando’s was a necessity. The task of collecting it fell to me, as the other boys are all knee-deep in code.

In true start-up style, the hackathon app has already seen its first pivot – it was decided that ‘My First Five’ was a bit too much of a niche concept, not to mention that there are a number of apps that do similar things. Inspired by Intel’s Museum of Me, we’re now thinking about a way to use Facebook data to create personal social graphs for a user that genuinely reveal things about their life on Facebook.

The fact that we’ve switched the focus of the app so quickly demonstrates a lot about start-up life – this is definitely not the world of corporate culture; changes in direction are inevitable, and it happens incredibly quickly. We’ve already had Sky News, Bloomberg and Business Wings down… the door’s still open, we’ll see who else drops by before the day’s over!

6pm

Another couple of hours, another pivot. We ran into problems with the Facebook API – despite on the surface seeming quite friendly, there was a lot of data we wanted to access that we couldn’t. We’re now stuck in limbo – we have another initial idea that we thought might be interesting, but it’s not as simple as many viral sensations in that it requires some input from users. In general, most apps, websites etc that go viral are very passive – logging in, if it is required at all, is usually the only call to action and anything more than that can be offputting.

In a sense, we’re back to the drawing board, but with 17 hours to go we’re not too worried…

8pm

Given that this live blog is going up on Management Today, I thought I should write something about management. It’s worth bearing in mind that, at the age of 22, Rich (our CEO) is the second youngest member of our team. Despite this he manages to command respect – counterintuitively, he does this by creating as open an environment as possible. We’re all encouraged to contribute our own ideas, and criticise those with disagree with. I would say ‘constructively criticise’, but anyone who’s been watching us live at http://floxxhackathon.com knows that our criticism isn’t always that constructive…

After the issue with the Facebook API, we spent quite a while (again…) thinking about what we wanted to achieve from this project. Keywords that kept cropping up over and over again were ‘disposable’, in that we wanted the site to be simple with no long-term commitment required, ‘fun’ and ‘revealing’. The latter seemed most important to us, and we got to thinking about what we could explore that isn’t already easily available.

We decided to do something around Twitter and music – whereas it’s very easy for Facebook friends to check out each others’ tastes in music, this isn’t something you can easily do through Twitter unless the person actively uses Last.fm or the #nowplaying hashtag.

11pm

The Domino’s pizza has been ordered, collected and suitably demolished. We’re now well into the new project – our graphic designer is working on some mock-ups while the other developer guys divide up working on different APIs. No doubt in a couple of hours they’ll all want to swap…

We’ve decided to ‘borrow’ the format of Desert Island Discs for a very simple website in the vein of Pianos and Rain, with the option of logging in via Facebook and/or Twitter to allow users to find friends in their networks. We’re working on making the site look as attractive as possible so that people want to both create a page for themselves and share the site with their friends.

True, just as much very poorly-designed stuff gets spread as beautiful stuff remains unshared, but we still think there’s a lot of truth behind Daniel Ek’s statement at Le Web ’11 – ‘The idea is 5%, execution is 95%’

Or to put it another way, ‘If you build it, they will come.’

2am

Bean bags, sofas, bubble wrap on the floor – all of a sudden, everything has started to look like a bed. After 14 hours of staring at screens, everyone is feeling a little burnt out and we get some (very limited) shuteye.

The stream of people on Twitter coming home from Christmas parties dries up by about 4am. We are alone.

5am

Despite whinging about sleep deprivation, hallucinations and trying to operate with one eye closed (almost exclusively yours truly), we’re getting there. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

8am

Well, after 22ish hours with no sleep, our CEO has just been on Bloomberg talking about start-ups, minimum viable products and the hackathon. We’ve also had around 500 people watching us so far (kudos if any of those have been watching for the whole time, they’re officially crazy) on Bambuser, an app that allows you to livestream from an iPhone or iPad.

The site is still being coded up, databases have just about been built and there’s still a lot of talk about API calls and other technical stuff that might as well be Russian to me. It’s time for the final push!

11am

Drawing to a close, and we’ve reached a pretty big decision – although the site is just about finished it needs a couple of hours more polishing before it would be ready to go out, not to mention that we haven’t tested it properly yet.

So, given that 4pm on the last Friday people will be at work before Christmas is probably the worst time known to man to launch a product (except maybe 11pm on New Year’s Eve…), we’re launching it on Monday afternoon instead. It’s difficult not to imagine what might have been if we hadn’t spent the first eight hours on a totally different product, but there’s always a lesson to be learnt, right?

Lesson numero uno – check a project is viable before spending eight hours on it. A second, more generally applicable, lesson is that there is such a thing as being too ambitious – we’re still young and headstrong, and thought we could get everything sorted for a release in 24 hours. We couldn’t.

True, it won’t take us many more hours of man time to finish it off, but it will take a few more… We also learnt something about sleep deprivation; after nigh on 30 hours of being awake you start losing your ability to be coherent. One of us thought the wire from our headphones was moving on its own, the rest of us barely spoke to each other and I could no longer put words together in a way that made sense. As a copywriter, that wasn’t ideal.

So, if you’re thinking about pulling an all-nighter to finish something, we recommend that you…well, don’t.


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