Today we released an update to Active Local that makes it super easy to get started to managing your events and activities. Many of you already already use Facebook, Meetup and EventBrite for this purpose, so why would you switch to Active Local? Active Local will not only import your activities to get you started, it will publish all activities you create to Facebook and Meetup. This means you can use Active Local to manage your activity in only one place. Active Local then handles the dirty work of pushing your event out to other channels where your audience may be.
We're constantly adding new import and publish channels. And we're constantly fine tuning Active Local to make it fit your needs. Let us know what you think!
Yesterday I did the final interview for a position we're hiring for on Active.com. I pulled one from the Google playbook, and toward the end of the session we had dialog that went something like this:
[Me] "Tell me something you think I don't know"
[Candidate] "What, like about me?"
[Me] "No. I mean some historical fact or process or something."
[Candidate] "Oh. Well...do you know how nuclear fission works?"
[Me] "No man. Tell me about it."
The candidate then described how nuclear fission works. His interest had been piqued by the recent disaster in Japan, so the topic was fresh in his mind. But this was an impressive response to a discussion that could have gone down any number of paths. I love to see this kind of creativity and interest in how things work in people we look to hire.
The upgraded Comments Box uses social signals to surface the highest quality comments for each user. Comments are ordered to show users the most relevant comments from friends, friends of friends, and the most liked or active discussion threads, while comments marked as spam are hidden from view.
I thought I'd share some of the awesome features we've baked into Active Local with you. While we designed the site to make it easy to browse through activities happening in your area, we've also made it easy for you to contribute activities too. I put a little screencast together showing how to do this:
We had a mandate in Q3, 2010, to conceptualize a product that showcased what a regionally-focused Active.com could be. After myriad brainstorming sessions, several user research trips, and executive coaxing we landed on Active Local.
Active.com Local has one mission in life, and that is to connect active people with the things active people do. Active.com Local is tightly integrated with Active.com, which has an awesome listing of activities to register for. All of those great activities have made their way to Active.com Local, too.
But we want Active.com Local to be about more than just the big events people register for. We're striving to be the definitive guide to activities happenning in your neighborhood - activities like morning rides, yoga in the park, afternoon runs and nearby hiking treks. We did our research and found that local bike shops and running shoe stores, the running club down the street, your favorite yoga instructor, or the local climbing store all put on an incredible number of free activities right where you live. So we're working in conjunction with these activity hosts to build up our inventory of things to do in the Bay Area.
In this way Active.com Local can be used not only to register for the Bay to Breakers, for example, but also to find a 6am run to join on Monday mornings.
We're also promoting local activity hosts - small shops and clubs - by making it easy for you to find your favorite bike shop and the morning rides it puts on, for example. The most active clubs and businesses are featured on our homepage. And you'll also find them listed on Near You map.
Public Beta Release
Active.com Local is targeted towards people in the San Francisco Bay Area. And starting now, users from that region who visit Active.com will see a ribbon encouraging them to visit Active.com Local.
A few months ago Amazon contacted me about our usage of Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS), a messaging platform that enables topic-based messaging between applications. At the time we were one of the biggest consumers of SNS, and they were curious about what we were doing with it. I pointed them to http://realtime.active.com and explained our realtime architecture to them. Intrigued, they showed a few of their engineers and later decided to write a whitepaper about Active.com Realtime and SNS.
Active.com was looking for a way to analyze a user’s click-stream in near real-time to deliver pertinent trending information in a timely manner. One of the fundamental ways that Active.com enhances user experience on its website is by understanding and anticipating user needs- surfacing relevant content dynamically to users whenever possible. This is reflected in the “Popular Near You” feature on the homepage, or the “Events Near You” feature on the channel pages, such as active.com/running.
I've gotta give props to Kevin over at Amazon for driving this whole thing. And of course, I've also gotta give props to the two guys who built Realtime, Brian Levine and Rob Cameron!
Today I got an email from Groupon for half off Americana restaurant in Del Mar. The day before I got an email for half off a facial at a local day spa. While these deals no doubt are appealing to many folks and cause these local businesses to be inundated with new, coupon-weilding customers, I couldn't be bothered. They just don't match my interests or needs. Groupon's problem is that its only niche is location. But what if there were a deals service that offered deals based on location + interest?
Enter Schwaggle, Active.com's deals site for active people. "Schwaggle" was derived from "schwag" + "haggle". It is designed to present deals that appeal to Active.com's audience, such as today's deal for 50% off Bay to Breaker's registration. Other such deals might include $50 off a bike tune-up, etc. And the point is that all of these are deals that I, as an active person, am more likely to find interesting than a $5 pedicure.
Schwaggle is launching in the San Francisco Bay Area. It will slowly roll out to other demographic areas as deals are sourced and we learn about how people receive the product. But today, at least, Schwaggle's deal sold out in a matter of hours, which shows that people are interested.
Inspired by Yelp, Twitter, and Fred Wilson, we had our first annual Active.com (internal) hackathon last week. Through prodding, coaxing and bribery, we ended up with 20 teams vying for the title of "Best Hack". Teams could consist of no more than two, in part because I couldn't allocate the grand prize, a trip to the Web 2.0 Expo, to more than two. UX people paired with hardcore engineers. Web App Developers paired with Web App Developers. And some just went it alone.
The rules were strict. All code written had to be produced during the hackathon, which started at 12am PST on 16 December and ended at 9:45am PST on the 17th. Hackers were, however, allowed to use Active.com or open source libraries. Two very inventive teams, however, incorporated devices such as the Arduino into their hacks. This was a pleasantly unexpected outcome. And also to my surprise, many teams hacked for over 24 hours making good use of the time alloted.
As the clock winded down I prepared the meeting room for hackathon demos. I'd assembled a team of 6 high-ranking judges from various disciplines - VP of Technology, Vice President of my division, Senior Director of IT Operations, etc. This team would be responsible for determining the overall winner, as well as the winner of each category, which were Most Original, Best Execution, Most Business Potential, and Best Demo.
Each team had three minutes to demo, along with a 2 minute question/answer/transition session. Teams from China had begun hacking on their 16th of December and submitted screencasts for me to play during the demo. They, unfortunately, didn't get a question/answer session. The meeting room was packed with geeks and business folks alike. Our COO would later comment to me that he noticed a lot of laughter during the demos, but that people weren't laughing because what they were seeing was funny. They were laughing because what they were seeing was blowing them away.
At a minimum people walked away from this experience with a realization of just how creative software engineers can be. As one colleague puts it, in many ways, engineers are like artists. But instead of having a canvas, they have an IDE. And two of the ideas have already been inserted into our roadmap for next year, which is an awesome outcome.
Best Hack (Overall Winner)
Team Me - Rob Cameron
Rob created an RFID checkin system to get around the issue of a user needing a smartphone to check in to venues or events.
SF Here We Come - Marc Villanueva, Chris Ferguson
Marc and Chris created an RV route finder that uses Google Maps and the Active.com Camping API to show where you might park your RV on your cross country trip. They also integrated into the Yelp API to pull up a list of REIs along the route but hit their quota limit before doing the demo.
Team Tunes - Eugene Correia
Eugene integrated the last.fm API into our Active Trainer Beta to produce a song list for training plans.
Most Business Potential
Real Deal - Airey Baringer, Chris Smith
Airey and Chris built a prototype that showed how we might port Active.com event listings into Facebook in order to reach a broader audience in a more social way.
Team Sweden - Hakan Lindestaf
Hakan integrated a realtime notification service into an LED display for Active Golf.
I was fortunate enough to be asked by Mashery to speak at BAPI New York and BAPI San Francisco this year. I gave a quick presentation on the reasons why we need to endeavor to understand the impact our API has on our business. Check out the presentation I gave in San Francisco:
We're conducting an internal hackathon at the end of the year. The aim is to give developers a chance to show off their programming skills and turn an idea into something concrete and demoable. Companies are increasingly adopting hackathons to change company culture and fuel innovation, and I think this would be a welcome and refreshing way to end the year. My feeling is we will be delighted by what our developers will come up with.
The Hackathon starts at 12am PST on Thursday, 16 December.
The Hackathon is also open to M+M China developers, who will hack on their 16th and 17th of December.
"Pre-hacking" is not allowed. All code must be written during the Hackathon with one exception -- open source and active network code libraries not explicitly developed for the Hackathon may be used in prototypes.
Hackers may form into teams of no more than 2. This allows for designers to pair up with developers or for developers who may not have an idea to nonetheless participate.
The Hackathon ends at 10am PST on Friday, 17 December.
Demos begin at 10:15am PST on Friday, 17 December.
Each team is given 3 minutes to demo their application to a panel of judges.
China-based hackers must submit a screencast of their demo to me by 10:15am on Friday, 17 December Beijing time (GMT + 8). We will then play the screencasts in front of the judges during the demo session in San Diego (10:15am GMT - 8).
Judges will use a point scoring system to determine the winner. The criteria are:
Potential Business Impact
The winning team will win a free trip to the Web 2.0 Expo (March 28 - 31 2011) in San Francisco with all expenses paid. If the winning team is China-based, Jean Su will be providing International tickets and visas.
Food and drink will be provided in the San Diego office during the Hackathon.
I sent two developers, Jonathan Spooner and Brian Levine, to the Techcrunch Disrupt Hackathon to hack at the Mashery booth yesterday. I wanted them to spend time networking, writing some code and having fun. I sent them a few text messages of encouragement last night as they worked for 20 hours straight creating an app.
I woke up this morning and watched their presentation live on ustream. They'd created an iPhone app for runners to use to play a virtual game of pacman. Runners have to avoid virtual ghosts and eat virtual power pellets while running in the real world.
During the demo, Jonathan ran around the building with the app running on his phone, and Brian narrated it. I thought they did a great job. And so did the judges! We won the "Best Demo" award, which is analagous to a podium finish!
Each category is worth a maximum of 10 points, making a perfect score 70. Complete rules are located on the WebAward's Judging Process page. While we didn't win outright in our categories, I'm proud of being made a finalist in each.
Update: Here are all of the winners in the Sports Category: