Outside Lands: Live Music Meets Live Hacks


Winning Hackers of the Outside Lands Hack-a-Thon pictured backstage after Googleplex concert with Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Michael "Mike Bass" Ballard of band Trombone Shorty And Orleans Avenue. Credit: Travis Laurendine.

Music hack-a-thons, a fairly common occurrence thanks to a proliferation of application programming interfaces, is taking on a twist this week at the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco -- allowing the hackers to sound out their digital creations with a live crowd.

Many hack-a-thons occur in a bubble. The hackers are given access to a bunch of technology and a theme. After a marathon coding session fueled by pizza and Mountain Dew, they conclude with a demo of their creation. A few projects win prizes, and everyone returns to their day jobs.

Outside Hacks is attempting to take that a step further -- with the hope of nudging some of these creations towards becoming actual products and companies. One way to do that is to turn the prizes into "accelerator" opportunities -- a meeting with Google engineers, a trip to Los Angeles to present their idea to Universal Music label executives, a mentorship with an entrepreneur, or Facebook advertising credits to market their product. These, too, are somewhat routine.

What's been missing is the ability for developers to test their projects with a live audience, said Travis Laurendine, the Outside Hacks organizer and head of CODEMKRS, a New Orleans group that has produced hack-a-thons at the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. With Outiside Lands, it's a crowd of 75,000 people who are expected to hit the three-day festival this weekend.

"It's hack-a-thon meets live events to create a mini-incubator so that projects that come out of these events aren't just science experiments but have a real chance at becoming companies," Laurendine said.

Travis Laurendine, organizer of the Outside Lands 2013 Hackathon, in San Francisco. Credit: Josh Miller Photo. 

The winning project, called OutsidePants, is a lost-and-found app for the boxes of items that are inevitably separated from their owners at festivals. While the festival already has an established lost-and-found booth, the app provides a digital connection to festival-goers, even after the event is over. In addition, the developers built a "pay it forward" mechanism in which grateful owners can pay a finder's reward to charity. The festival organizers are working with the developers to find ways of incorporating the app with their existing lost-and-found service.

"We're meeting with them so they can tell us what they like and what they don’t like about the app," Laurendine said. "This is valuable input from professionals along with built-in field research."

The runner-up prize went to the maker of "Nope, Dumbass," a music trivia game about artists at the festival. Getting a question wrong will earn the player a tongue-in-cheek "Nope, Dumbass" Tweet or Facebook post. The game developers, Julie Logan and Amit Aggarwal, will have a pop-up booth at the festival where they plan to engage with a live audience to answer trivia questions, using their app.

For now, only the two winning apps are allowed to use the festival as a testbed. The event -- and its prizes -- were sponsored by Gracenote, Dolby, The Echo Nest, PayPal, Facebook, Universal Music, SoundHound and Mashery. 

Check out the final list of winners and runners-up to see what else the hackers cooked up, including an app called Parkr developed by two high school students that would connect owners of private parking spaces in car-clogged San Fransico willing to rent their spaces to festival goers.