The Social Network

In the 2010 movie “The Social Network”, hackathons were romanticized as exciting programmer games involving alcohol and cheering crowds. They looked like fun but were not the appropriate venue for getting work done.

The reality of modern-day hackathons is that they are extremely effective, well-organized events that can have dramatic results when it comes to developing software, apps, and the ideas that drive them. Microsoft has been exceptionally efficient at them over the years with many of the apps we use today having formed their roots during a hackathon.

Windows 8 is coming and Microsoft is appealing to a larger talent pool by taking their hackathon model online. Their upcoming App-a-Thon is intended to allow the brightest minds in the country and around the app-development world the opportunity to expose their work within the ecosystem of a new operating system.

The biggest challenge with traditional hackathons and DevCamps is that they are centered around a physical venue. Programmers must be in or willing to travel to a metro area, limiting the potential for full exposure and collaboration. With the App-a-Thon, Microsoft hopes to remove common hackathon limitations.

“In-person hackathon is a unique experience; it is exciting and stimulating.” said Agnes from CoderCharts, the company organizing the event for Microsoft. “Our purpose is to create the opportunity to have such experience online to everybody.”

From August 17th through 26th, teams will participate in the online-only event by submitting their Windows 8 apps for judgment.  They can submit apps into the utility, lifestyle, and edutainment categories.

Judging will be different from standard hackathons in that there is both a panel rating each concept as well as an online voting component, both of which count towards 50% of the score. Microsoft is offering prizes to the winners.  Winning app from each category will receive $1000 value in gift cards.

JavaScript/HTML5, C#, VB.NET, and C++ are all acceptable languages on Windows 8 apps. With a robust app environment already available for competitors iOS and Android, Microsoft is hoping that the modern aspect of their system combined with the infusion from this App-a-Thon will broaden the Windows Store offerings prior to launch and expose the system to developers who will continue to build on the platform.

Registration is now open.

While Aaron Sorkin’s perception of hackathons may have been more exciting than reality, there is definitely a social component that draws teams to real-world events. The Windows 8 App-a-Thon will try to duplicate much of the socializing, competitiveness, and collaboration that helps make hackathons successful by offering several venues for interactions within and between teams:

  • Facebook – With both a page and a group, the Facebook presence for the Windows 8 App-a-Thon will make collaboration and competition more “sharable”
  • Forum – Discussions will surround ideas offer help to participants
  • Twitter – Two hashtags, #win8apphack and #windows8, will be used to organize news and allow Twitter users to interact with teams and each other surrounding the event

With the event right around the corner, many eyes in the tech world will be watching the App-a-Thon to see if it is a successful model for both talent exposure and legitimate app development. The success of Windows 8 will be partially determined by the amount of apps they have available shortly after launch.

Top image credit: The Social Network/Sony Pictures

[Disclosure: VentureBeat has a contract with JD Rucker via Hasai for social media work.]

JD is a Christian, husband, father of 3 and CEO of Hasai, Inc, in Orange County, CA. He enjoys studying science, technology, and social media.