lørdag 13. februar 2010

What’s Better: Saving the World or Building Another Facebook app?

Running on just sugar and caffeine, 32 teams of students worked non-stop for 18 hours to develop applications that they hoped would blow the judges’ socks off. This was at the UC-Berkeley Hackathon, last weekend. Indeed, many teams succeed in their mission. They built some amazing software: to provide server-side rendering of games, convert website mockups to HTML/CSS, create sophisticated playlists for Youtube videos, and to analyze Twitter streams. One team even built a gaming interface for a neural headset.

There were so many cool tools that the seven judges, who included representatives from Zynga, Facebook, and Y-Combinator (and me), had a hard time picking a winner in each category. The exception was the “social good” category. There was only one team was worthy of receiving this prize. The team built a system to enable villagers in developing countries to send SMSs to volunteers across the globe who provide emergency medical advice. But the Silicon Valley judges couldn’t see the value of this technology. One commented, “If the villager has a cell-phone, why doesn’t he just call 911? This is really dumb”. (Most of the judges didn’t understand that 911 services don’t exist in most places in the world, and that SMSs have become the internet of the developing world). Instead, the panel awarded the prize to a team that developed a polling technology for university classrooms and for conferences. The rationale for this decision? “Helping universities is a social good.”

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