Friday, March 26, 2010

Yet another application contest -- Alcatel-Lucent crowdsourcing at SXSW 2010

Alcatel-Lucent Eleven API lounge at SXSW was a fabulous place to hang out when I didn't have another place to be. Dimly lit, with sleek white couches arranged in a circle resembling a vaguely familiar corporate logo (but not the Alcatel-Lucent logo, so perhaps the similarity was incidental) it had plenty of power outlets to charge laptops and devices. Even better, it had free breakfast and free happy hours with amazing food in the afternoons. At those happy hours Alcatel-Lucent held application pitch contests. People in the room were asked to come up with ideas for software applications that would incorporate content and networking, and describe them in 5-minute pitches.

Such contests are popular at social media events. Last year I wrote about the Half-Baked Game that took place at the Social Media Camp 2008. Most of the ideas proposed at the game were endless, rather uninnovative mashups of existing social networking functionality. Alcatel-Lucent contest was like that too, only more so. Then again, the ideas presented here weren't meant to be taken seriously.

As people pitched, an artist wrote down the application titles on a white board, creating a graph that resembled a game board. It started out blank and fresh, as seen in the picture below, and ended up full (see bottom picture).

Alcatel-Lucent Eleven API lounge and the application-pitching board

Alcatel-Lucent Eleven API lounge (BTW, that's some random person, not me), and the white board that will fill up with application ideas in the course of the weekend.

Here are some of the ideas.

One guy proposed an application that would capture all the educational content that your child is exposed to, as the child progresses from nursery to preschool to higher levels of education.

Another guy pitched a "build-your-perfect-mate" application. He didn't explain how it would work.

A woman pitched, an application that would help you find friends. "How many of you have ever been new to town?" she asked the audience in a cheerful tone of a motivational speaker lobbing a rhetorical question at the audience. "Did you find it hard to meet new friends?" Nods all around. Her application, she said, would let you meet new friends. Nobody asked her what it would do better than or Facebook, reminding me of the famous headline from The Onion: " employees don't have the heart to tell CEO about Facebook".

Then there were not just one but two guys who pitched two different post-apocalyptic survival applications. Those apps would provide instructions on finding food, shelter, etc. in a primitive environment, such as "how to strangle a sable-toothed tiger with your bare hands". They just neglected to mention where the electricity for your iPhone would come from. No, I didn't say this was a serious contest.

Among all this, I remember somebody proposing an application that sounded like it actually made sense -- it was somewhat innovative and useful. Not surprisingly, it did NOT win, possibly because it took more than 30 seconds for the judges to digest the idea. Unfortunately, I didn't write it down either, because, not fitting in 140 characters, it wasn't tweetable. And then I forgot what it was about.

Finally, some guy had an idea for an anti-search engine: instead of showing you in search results, it will scramble them so no one will find you. We all have people in our lives that we wish used just that kind of search engine, but what's to keep them from using a real one?

However, this lead me to further thinking about search engines, which will be explored in my next post.

Application-pitching board all filled up with app ideas at the Alcatel-Lucent Eleven API lounge

By the end of the weekend the white board at Alcatel-Lucent Eleven API lounge all filled up with application ideas, rendered by an artist in the likeness of a game board. Clicking on the link, you can get a big version of the picture and see most of those ideas for yourself. There were many more than what I described in this post.

The guy with the educational experiences-capturing application won. I think his idea is not bad, just hard to implement because it's too vague. Educational content is a very eclectic and unstructured notion, hard to capture in a unified format. Also it would put the burden of collecting such content either on various educational institutions your child would go to (but how would you bring all those institutions on board with this idea?) or on the child himself/herself, which is obviously impossible while he/she is a toddler, but may not be practical even when he/she is older. How many children actually pay attention to the teacher? How can they be expected to capture teacher's every word or scribble in a digital medium? This kind of software falls in the general category of lifelogging, which, to me, is a very interesting area, but few practical applications have come out of it so far.

The educational content guy won some kind of domestic appliance or gadget for his idea, though. The box suggested a toaster, but perhaps not. :-)

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