Masters Students Win 24 Hour eBay Hackathon Competition

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This past weekend, Digital Media first year Masters students Samuel Zwaan and Ray Chen and HCI Masters student Rui Feng competed in and won the 24 hour eBay Hackathon. Zwaan, Chen, and Feng formed Team Infinity and went up against a dozen other student teams, most of whom were computer science students. eBay challenged these teams to create an application that touched on social, mobile, and eco-friendly aspects.

“We decided to create an application based on the idea of sharing the costs and use of an item,” said Samuel Zwaan. “There are some products that not everybody needs all the time and can be expensive. Think about a lawn mower, a projector, or maybe even an expensve digital camera. So instead of having to save to buy something like that, you can buy it together with a group and share it. Consider the environmental impact!”

The application that Team Infinity created was a 3D interface where the relative price of products is indicated by visual depth. They used a MILO and eBay API call to produce this information. When an interactor hovers over a product, they are presented with the product’s basic information. When a product is clicked, it is zoomed in to get more details on the product. The application also allows interactors to assign roles to those involved in purchasing this product.

“The basic idea with that feature is that when you invest together in a product, you need to divide the group into different roles, such as the initiator of the process, a promotor, a planner for internal matters amongst the investors,” explains Zwaan.

Before launching into designing the application, Zwaan, Chen, and Feng did extensive background research on eBay demographics as well as had many group discussions of what exacty this application should do.

“I have an interest in local, small communities, and so our team discussed a lot what we wanted to do. After doing some background research, it ecame pretty clear that we had to do something with lower income people because this category was underrepresnted compared to other groups. This seemed like a good starting point to go in the direction of sharing, crowd funding, and crowd sourcing.”

Because the entire competition took place in only 24 hours, Team Infinity was certainly pushed to their limits to create this application.

“It was 24 hours straight with no sleep,” Zwaan says. “Well, I crashed for 2 or 3 hours on a chair to get some sleep, but Ray and Rui just went 24 hours straight, which was pretty rough on them. eBay took good care of us though. They kept us fueled with a ton of food and drinks.”

At the end of the day though, the entire experience was incredibly rewarding. Each member of Team Infinity took home their very own iPad Mini.

“At one point, we thought we had won nothing because all the prizes had been given except for first prize. For a moment, we were so frustrated — 24 hours for nothing! But then we heard our team name! Overall, a good experience!”

Perhaps one of the most interesting facts of Team Infinity’s triumph is that the winner of this competition was not a team comprised of computer science students who are extraordinarily accomplished programmers, but a team of Digital Media and HCI students.

“I think the reason why our team won is because the Digital Media and HCI students have a good understanding of the why,” Zwaan explains. “You can make an awesome looking application that is visually stunning. But why use it? Why is it interesting for people? The first couple hours of the hackathon, we were just discussing what the use of the application should be, who would use it, and so on. We did background research and based the app on our findings.”

“Besides this, our team had a really good balance,” Zwaan continues. “We didn’t agree on everything al the time, which keeps you on your toes. Ray is an amazing coder, the things he makes are unbelievable. Rui has a sharp eye for user experience. And I like to think that I can code a bit, have creative ideas and give a solid presentation. All in all, we had a good combination to create something and then sell it to our audience.”