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jjaquinta avatar image
jjaquinta asked

Boston hack-a-thon writeup

Someone asked me on the StarLanes forum ( http://starlanes.freeforums.net) how the hack-a-thon went last night. I did a write-up there, but I thought it might be of general enough interest to copy here. If anyone else in the forum was there, I would encourage you to chime in with your impressions as well. Background: the Boston meet-up group ( http://www.meetup.com/Boston-Alexa-Developers) held their first event last night. One of the StarLanes players asked "How was the hackathon today?" ... It was... meh. Packed to overflowing, which was interesting. I didn't do a formal count until people started leaving, but my estimate was between 50 and 70. Easily more than at the official "mini" hack-a-thon a few months ago. Based on how a few questions to the audience were answered, it seemed to break down to about 50% new-to-alexa, and about 50% who already knew or had done something. It also seemed evenly split between those wanting to write Alexa skills (ASK) and those wanting to create Alexa enabled devices (AVS), which surprised me. There were only one or two that I had met before, either in person or on-line. So there is still a lot of churn in the community. But I was surprised by the number of business/entrepreneurial users, rather than hobbyists. I was able to chat with people all over the spectrum who wanted to voice-enable things as diverse as coffee machines and hotel rooms. There were the usual, expected, questions from the audience around the non-dynamic nature of the audio interfaces, and other well known short comings of Alexa. Things that have been discussed to death already in the forum. I don't know if they were just trying to enforce these requests to Amazon, or if they just don't read the forum. I mostly just held my tongue. No point beating a dead horse. And that brings me to my two main disappointments. Firstly, the content. There was the inevitable commercial from Mobiquity, the "sponsor" of the event. They took over the meet-up group, so it's only fair they get to have their say in return for organizing things. They showed some mildly interesting things (Alexa controlling sound system, drones, etc) but they kind of ruined it by showing an over-long somewhat misogynistic humor video called "Blind Date". Thirty seconds would have been OK, but five minutes? There were a *lot* of cringes. The Amazon presentation was, well... I'd seen it all before. Even some of the slides were the same from the previous hack-a-thon. But, given the churn of the audience, that wasn't unreasonable. But it went over-time and, given that we didn't actually end up doing any hacking, all the cutting and pasting of code was not time well spent. A general overview followed by Q&A probably would have been better. Secondly, while I had many interesting conversations with people, there just wasn't really anyone from Amazon to talk with. Rob, the facilitator, has only been on the job three weeks. He was struggling to answer the been-asked-a-thousand-times-on-the-forum questions. There was no point putting difficult questions to him. The other Amazonians on Alexa lurked in the background and tried to patch their creaking network (ran out of IP addresses!). There were no decision makers present. Amazon did its usual job of hiding them quite well. (Although there were rumors going around that this one guy in front was Jeff Bezos in disguise!) No one to discuss business development with. No one to [i]discuss[/i] issues with who was empowered to do anything about them. Just people to smile and nod, tell you that "lots of people" are listening, but, ultimately, not giving any answers. What's the upshot for StarLanes? Well we went prepared with t-shirts, custom skinned our Echo, and demo scripts. We talked to a lot of people about StarLanes. Mostly about technical aspects, and so forth. But there was a non-Alexa Amazonian who was quite intrigued and promised to try it out. There was a funny moment when one woman that I suspect was a UI designer finally realized that StarLanes was Alexa-only. No UI. She was amazed, but before we could get into it, one of the talks was starting. So, overall, I think StarLanes got some exposure, and we might get a few more users. But I didn't meet anyone that I hoped would actually be able to help progress the main problem: finding ways to promote StarLanes, advertising it, or at least talking it up in public channels as an amazing example of what can be done on the Alexa platform. We're going to discuss it some more. But I'm thinking we're going to pivot to other avenues of promotion. If any of you have any favorite gaming sites that do reviews, let us know. I might try to interest Wired again in doing an article. I even looked to see if it was possible to do an audio-interface for StarLanes using OK Google or Siri. So, no breakthrough yet, but we'll keep working the problem.
alexa skills kitcommunity projects
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klipcenter avatar image
klipcenter answered
We're planning on doing an Alexa hackathon in Philly. We've sponsored startup week's before, but this will be the first one we do start to finish. Any suggestions would be welcome and also it would be great to know if you got any direct support from Amazon and / or have any suggestions in that regard. Thanks!
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jjaquinta avatar image
jjaquinta answered
The Boston one was held on Amazon premises. How much of the nibbles Amazon paid for and how much Mobiquity paid for I can't say. To be honest, I think you would be better off not having Amazon sponsorship. They just trotted out the same presentation that is all over the place. And their employees get fired if they say anything that isn't already published somewhere. So you just aren't going to hear anything new from them. It would also be nice if you had a genuine user interest group sponsoring it, rather than a company that is just trying to increase their profile by hosting such an event. But it really depends on what you have going there. I'd offer to speak, but Philly is a bit far for me.
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Sanyu avatar image
Sanyu answered
klipcenter, If you are interested in getting in touch with someone from the Amazon Alexa team to discuss assistance with your hackathon - please file a contact us ( https://developer.amazon.com/public/support/contact/contact-us) and we will put you in touch with them directly. Thanks, sanyu
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