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.
Anyone is welcome to join the beta. The only limitations currently is that there is only one training plan: Couch to 5K. But, you're welcome to make up your own workouts and schedule them whenever you like. Be sure to check out the "Feedback" tab on the left edge and let us know if you have any feature requests or find a bug. We've got big plans for this site in 2011 so stay tuned!
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:
Shoot me an email at jeremy dot thomas at active.com if you're interested in helping us out with a top secret initiative targeting the Bay Area:
You’re an adventurer. You love camping. You’re upset when you miss one of your six planned workouts for the week. You love talking to others who are also passionate about their fitness lifestyle. You prefer to buy your running shoes from that specialty shop down the street instead of the national chain in the shopping mall – there’s just something about the authenticity of the people who work there that draws you in.
Most importantly, you’re excited by technology. Maybe you’ve taken a couple programming classes. Or maybe you’ve simply started your own blog to share your ideas with others. Either way, you love fusing technology with your active lifestyle, and you’re eager to learn more about both.
You will join the Active.com team to roll out a new, Beta product in the Bay Area. In exchange for school credit, you will act as an extension of the product development team to raise awareness of the product in that region. You will first attend a two day training session where you will be armed with all of the information you need to accomplish your tasks. Primarily, you will be contacting Bay Area specialty retailers (bike shops, running shoe stores, martial arts studios) in person. Your job is to be genuine and get them excited about the new Beta product and to deliver feedback to the product development team. As such, you will play a pivotal role in shaping the direction of the product roadmap.
You will learn about the role of research in the software development process. And you will learn about the challenges of creating demand for a brand new product
Actively pursuing a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree.
Demonstrated understanding cutting edge web technology.
Reserve America, which is part of The Active Network, contains campground data for 97% of the US and Canada's national and state/provincial parks. Today we are releasing the Active.com Camping API, backed by Reserve America's database, so that developers can tap into this rich information source. The API can be used to find all campgrounds in California that allow RVs, pets, have a golf course and are available on 15 September, 2010 for 8 days. Or it can be used to find campgrounds in Colorado that reside along rivers or lakes. Or it can be used to get a rich description of a campground including driving directions, recommendations and ammenities (these descriptions are often authored by park rangers).
Caching - Serving pre-compiled content is always the best way to reduce I/O and have a fast website. Memcached and Apache's mod_cache are frameworks we commonly use.
Load Balance Across Availability Zones -- AWS has a 99.95% uptime SLA, but only if applications are deployed across multiple availability zones. As such, nodes in a pool should run in two or more availability zones. And, as if it needs to be said, applications should be load balanced.
Data Backup - The cloud doesn't magically solve data retention issues (but it does help). Amazon's RDS offering is a great option when not wanting to deal with setting up backup policies. Otherwise, these must be put in place just like they would in any given data center.
VIP Monitoring - Like most companies with products in the cloud, we run some of our products in a proprietary data center, and others on Amazon. But our monitoring system acts as a central repository reporting status on all systems. As such, monitoring must be setup on VIPs (i.e. www.ihoops.com) and nodes, with alerting configured should anything act up. Node monitoring is enabled by allowing traffic through from the source ip address of the monitoring system through Amazon's security group configuration.
CPU and Memory Monitoring - CPU and memory utlization should also be monitored. UDP port 161 should be opened to the monitoring system to record SNMP traps.
Human Support Process - When something goes wrong, somebody's gotta get paged.
If you know somebody who fits the job description below, DM me on twitter @jgrahamthomas,shoot me an email (jeremy dot thomas at active dot com) or apply on dice.com. We're looking for two Java/PHP developers for a new Self-Service Ads platform we're building.
The Active Network, Inc. provides technology applications and marketing services to community service organizations worldwide and has earned a reputation as a leading online destination for active lifestyles. The company's application services help organizations reduce the cost and complexity of managing community activities and fundraising events. Its marketing services offer integrated online and field marketing campaigns that help brands develop authentic relationships with active consumers. Its consumer properties offer a comprehensive destination for the active lifestyle.
You are a Web Application Developer with solid experience developing both consumer-facing web products and backend systems. You enjoy technical challenges and can recite the Agile Manifesto by heart. You also understand how to build scalable, dynamic systems and you preach the tenets of Web 2.0 to those who will listen.
You have a passion for developing high-availability systems and have experience putting advertisements in front of people’s faces using ad platforms such as OpenX.
You know how to build scalable systems. You’ve used memcached. You’ve mastered PHP5 but you are equally as good in J2EE frameworks like Stripes, Spring and Restlet. You can write stored procedures for MySQL and understand how to optimize relational databases.
You’ve contributed to one or more open source projects, and you may even have started a couple.
You read books about programming.
You blog about web application development.
You’re a leader, a rock star, and someone who gets the job done.
You will join the active.com development team – a group of seasoned software engineers proficient in J2EE, .NET, JAVA and PHP5 technologies. You will be expected to add value to this team from day 1 with your experience, passion and technical expertise. You will work with that team to develop the active.com OpenX self-service ad platform, delivering value to the active.com properties and customers alike.
Most of all, you are a boundary pusher. You constructively question entrenched viewpoints, and you are a consumer advocate.
Please do not apply unless you have substantial experience in the competency areas below: • High transaction and high traffic web site solutions. • Expert web application developer using J2EE and PHP5 technologies. • Knowledgeable in MySQL • Skilled at getting ads in front of users via OpenX or similar platform. • Practical experience employing scalable architectures. • Solid background with Agile software development methodologies. • Excellent written and spoken English
The Active.com Realtime website has now been collecting data for several months. This is the first time we've looked at site usage with respect to a user's location, and it presents the opportunity to do some insightful data analysis.
For example, did you know on average San Diegans register for events within 3 weeks of the start date, and they tend not to travel very far. When they do travel they tend to go to Los Angeles. ; But, people from the east coast often travel farther. For example, when registrants from Philadelphia travel for an event, they often go to Salt Lake City. The trend of east coast people traveling further than west coast might be explained by the weather; the west coast simply has weather more consistently suited for endurance events, and a greater number of events taking place. How do people in the middle of the country fare? Using Las Vegas as an example, top destinations are split between Sacramento, Atlanta and Jacksonville, showing a wide variability in destination.
We also looked at the most popular time of day registrations were completed. For almost all of cities, the morning hours between 8 and 11 were most popular, with an additional spike in activity around 8pm. Evening registrations were especially prevalent in the city of Seattle; could it be all the coffee?
Finally, the registration sport was detailed per city. Running and walking events were found at the top, with cycling and triathlon trailing close behind. Other sports such as swimming, fitness and adventure racing also ranked among the top.
Last week we open sourced a new project called Owl Owl takes a different approach to site monitoring in that you can get a feel for how your servers are doing at just a glance. No complex graphs of bandwidth or network latency, just color coded blocks that show you the one thing your users care about: how fast your site responds.