Late last Saturday night at Photo Hack Day, event organizer Alex Taub got up in front the open room of developers and designers that were scattered about working on long connected tables. He announced that the social time was starting and beer was available in the form of a fridge stuffed with cans of PBR beer, donated by a sponsor. No one got up, and everyone continued working on their laptops. It was not totally surprising, given the short time period for the hacks and the large number of prizes offered by the sponsors – a $5000 first prize, several iPad 2 devices, a new Lytro camera and more.
The venue was the sleek General Assembly incubator space on Broadway in New York City’s Flatiron district, which was full most of the time, and packed for final demos. Most developers were from the New York area, but a fair amount of participants and winners (including myself), came from other areas of the US.
Photo Hack Day was organized in less than three weeks by Aviary, a New York based online photo tools provider that has recently refocused on a photo toolset that can be used by other developers. As many online services are basing their businesses on building a developer ecosystem around their programming interfaces (APIs), they are now going to greater lengths to attract developers to them. Photo Hack Day provided startups as well as some larger players such as Flickr to share their latest APIs and hopefully seed new businesses based on them. Several companies launched their API’s at the event, such as the 500px photo communtity.
The event started at 9 AM on Saturday, and demos began at 2pm on Sunday, giving developers a little over a day to complete their projects. On the first day, there were sessions by many of the API providers in meeting rooms, and and many reps of companies such as Face.com, Etsy and more were on hand. I came to the Photo Hack Day from San Francisco in order to get a sense of trends in the digital photo arena. (I am developer of photo creativity site ImageChef.com and accompanying iPhone Apps) There was a lot to observe. Camera phone usage has offset use of traditional digital cameras, and companies such as Sincerely and MoPho allow developers to monetize by easily offering physical goods (prints, mugs etc.) based on them. Aviary’s web and mobile Feather service allows easy addition of basic photo editing and features to apps that aren’t primary photo focused. 500px and others are offering a serious competition to Flickr as a hosting tool for professional photographers. Despite privacy issues there is a large set of tools that can be enhanced with facial recognition provided by Face.com’s API, especially combined with the social graph.
There were a lot of high quality hacks. Based on the winners, judges seemed to focus on highly original concepts that were conceived at the event over more polished ideas that had been done before. Winner PhotoBot is a photographer tips tool in the vein of Microsoft Office’s ‘Clippy’ help tool. Once a user selects a photo that he has taken, the tool looks at focus, zoom and other data in the photo’s meta-data and uses Face.com’s api to learn about the facial gaze of people in object. A cute robot would then make recommendations, such as zooming in to get closer. In a demo using a photo of the Statue of Liberty, it used the GPS location of the photo to show other publicly available photos shot in the same location. (Since one if their prizes will be a Lytro camera, perhaps staying in focus will not be an issue for them).
Second place was a very amusing computer security system called HoneyBadger. Using Face.com‘s facial recognition from a computer’s camera, it could recognize unauthorized users from the owner’s Facebook friends list. It then ‘punks’ the intruder with a funny photo made of them using the Aviary API, notifies the computer’s owner via text message (via Twillio’s text messaging API). Third place Nostalgia, developed by myself with Jahanzaeb Safder, allowed users to enter any song name to see a slideshow of photos that matched words in the song. We used MusiXmatch for a song and lyrics database, then picked highly ranked Instagram photos whose tags matched the words. It was simple compared to other hacks, but was very effective with the audience when we demoed it with Jay-Z’s New York tribute song Empire State of Mind and scenes of Brooklyn and TriBeCa came up many of which were taken just that day by Instagram users.
There were many other interesting entries. A team of men made a tool to automatically add a mustache to a photo, while a team of women created a site that would automatically remove one. A developer’s use of the Face.com API to create a photo slideshow that only included attractive women fell flat with the judges. The panel, whose composition wasn’t fully announced in advance, was half women.
Possibly the most photographed moment of photo hack day was late Saturday night. Only after announcing another prize was Alex able to to get developers to take a break. Sponsor Photojojo had donated a set of iPhone lens attachments but not specified how they should be awarded. Alex set up an eating contest, with whoever could eat one of the catered burritos fastest and say ‘I Love Photojojo’ winning the prize.