An inside look at Google’s Los Angeles Video hackathon

This weekend, nearly 70 people teamed up at the Google (s GOOG) offices in Los Angeles for the engineer’s equivalent of a slumber party: The LA Video Hackathon, a two-day adventure in developing apps for the Google TV and YouTube APIs. The end result: 14 apps presented to a panel of judges including Machinima’s Nanea Reeves and Fullscreen’s George Strompolos, with a 55″ LG Google TV handed out as a grand prize.
I stopped by the hackathon in its final hours this Sunday to ask Paul Carff, senior developer advocate for Google TV, why Google was interested in sponsoring a giant sleepover for developers: I expected one or two reasons, but he had many. First off, it’s an opportunity to engage Google Developer Groups, the third-party enthusiasts developing apps for the Google TV and YouTube APIs.
It also proves to be a good testing ground for the APIs, giving the developer relations team an opportunity to see how easy or difficult it might be for developers to work with the code and documentation. It can even be an opportunity for fixing errors: This weekend, one participant caught a bug in an app — the team was able to pass it along for fixing.
Also, it was an opportunity to see what people might come up with, given the opportunity to work hands-on with the APIs. Of the people who attended this weekend’s hackathon, Carff estimated that 40 percent called themselves developers, while 20-25 percent volunteered themselves as designers and the rest claimed to be business development-types. “Which is cool, because you need all those people to fill in all the blanks,” he said.
Carff, as one of the judges, said that the criteria they would be using to judge the winning videos would include the level of completeness the developers were able to achieve in just two days, as well as the way in which they used the APIs and a certain “Wow” Factor.
The winning apps from this weekend’s hackathon included Vid Social, a timeline for comments on both live-streamed and hosted video and Giggle, which uses the SongKick app to generate playlists of music videos from bands that will be performing in your area soon. TVUS, which enables users to overlay any video (including Hangouts) over any Google TV screen, took home the grand prize.
So what will come of the projects developed this weekend? As the point wasn’t to complete an app, but to instead create enough of it for demo purposes, it’s still unsure. But there’s a track record for hackathons resulting in completed projects, such as Viki, an app curating Korean entertainment for Google TV.
Not only did the developers of that app conceive of it initially at the Mountain View headquarters hackathon, but because they had the opportunity to connect with the Google TV team, they were able to get featured on Google Play.
But that’s not the only reason people take part. And it’s not why Google employees volunteer their weekends to help. The biggest reason that people participate? Carff put it like this: “My first time, I wondered, who’s going to come in? Especially if they’ve been coding all weekend. But I was floored. The energy you get when people are excited about a new idea — it’s really invigorating.”