Today we’re treated to a guest post from André Fiedler—a Mozillian and mobile web developer. He has contributed to various Firefox OS programs, and has even written a few apps for the platform.
André recently participated in a hackathon for Firefox OS. We invited him to share details of his intense—but fun!—48 hours of hacking. Take it away, André…
Hackathons are a great way to explore new ideas and focus on getting things done. They’re also good for testing concepts. You’ll meet a lot of motivated people with fresh ideas you cannot imagine sitting at home.
In September, the MABB kicked off the TV Hackday in Berlin with a round of pitch sessions. This basically involves everyone bouncing crazy ideas off each other to see what sticks. Thanks to Sandra Persing (Senior Events Program Manager at Mozilla) and Michael Kohler (Reps Council member and a Reps Mentor), I was able to attend the event—and even got a Panasonic Firefox OS TV to boot.
The goal of this hackathon was to gather a team and produce an idea within 24 hours. The best pitch came from Anna Kranke: “Make boring television more interesting by watching TV together with your friends, even if they’re somewhere else.” Our team filled out when Elle Langer (storyteller) and Markus Goetz (programmer) joined. We called our project tattle.tv. Here’s the fuller vision:
Show a politician’s speech on TV. By using a mobile app, a viewer can chat with friends about what they’re watching—their conversation displayed on screen.
The chat system supports speech-to-text, voting, and emoticons. Additionally, face-detection functionality identifies the politician, allowing the viewer to learn more about the person.
Sadly we had no live TV, so we looked for a video we could embed for development and demonstration. Elle found a suitable clip and I tried to load it directly into the Firefox OS TV app. Here’s a nice detailing of supported video formats on MDN. Looks easy, right? Nope. The TV didn’t play my mp4 video file and encoding it as webm didn’t work either. Time was passing and we needed a solution; luckily the same video was available on YouTube and embedding the YouTube player directly worked really well.
Over the next few hours I made progress on the TV app, Anna produced some fantastic looking smileys, icons, and layout in general. Elle wrote the story and dialogue about three “guys” watching TV. We hacked until midnight. In the end we had a working TV app prototype that showed timed chat bubbles and splashing smileys based on Elle’s story. Markus had the mobile app prototype running, too.
After we made tomorrow’s plan, we all got some sleep.
The next day I started work on the API stuff. And soon realized, the decision we made the day before breaks the embedded web-server. I thought about doing two prototypes—one for the live demo and one that works with the app. But at this time, the organizer told us to finish the projects at 1pm, two hours earlier than we thought! This was not enough time to get a fully functional prototype working; plus, Markus hadn’t finalized the mobile app.
Once again we had to re-plan, but hey, it’s a hackday. We decided to simply show an app graphic on the device and to just finalize the automatically timed TV app prototype, which was already working. Thus we were mainly finished and we more or less let the app just fully run through… and it failed after exactly 75 seconds. To this day, I cannot explain what the problem is; maybe I’ll investigate it later. But those 75 seconds where enough to showcase our project.
What an amazing experience. I met a lot of new and great people, had a lot of interesting talks, found some bugs and got many new ideas and inspiring impressions. If you’ve never experienced a hackathon, you should definitely give it a try! And keep in mind, it’s just fun. If something doesn’t work out as expected, that’s okay. If you can’t make it, fake it.
Check out all the other great hacks from this event at the TV Hackday website.