HACKTIVE Hackathon Review & My 3rd Place PhatActive Submission

I spent last weekend (09/21/2013-09/22/2013) at Active.com’s HACKTIVE hackathon. I had an awesome time, met ton’s of great people, and actually placed 3rd in the “developer” category with my “PhatActive” submission. WooHoo!  A big thank you to Active.com, Mashery, Yahoo, Aetna, CoMerge and all the other sponsors for putting on a great event!  As an evangelist, I am involved with a lot of hackathons, etc.  It was so much fun to go as a participant!  And these guys put on an awesome event!

The People and the Place

There was a great turn out for the event.   There were a total of 15 apps presented (three in each of the “categories”, see below).  However, MOST teams had at least two people on them, and some had as many as five.  The room was pretty packed when it came time to present.

The event was held at CoMerge in San Diego.  This is a fantastic facility.  Thank you so much to Robert for the space!


Cheston Coantoi, owner of Driveframe LLC, and a seasoned hackathon particiapte was their to help teams focus on the challenge and build compelling presentations.  There were also a number of folks from Active.com as well as Neil Mansilla from Mashery, Jesse Givens from Aetna, Tom Clancy from TAO Venture Capital Partners, and Rik Suhonen from Yahoo.  Lots of support. 

The Challenge

Active.com manages many if not most of the events you attend.  These could be sporting events, or even large tech events like Mac World.  They provide a number of the registration systems you use for a variety of activities.  Sites like ACTIVEGolf.com, CoolRunning.com, ReserveAmerica.com and WannaDo.com are all by Active networks.

You can see that Active.com plays a big role in keeping people Active. However, there is still a global problem where one in ten deaths can be attributed to obesity.  With that in mind, Active’s challenge for this hackathon was to use their APIs to create apps that helped get people active. 

Here is the challenge in their words:

“Did you know that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and premature death? ACTIVE Network is challenging developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to innovate new ways of using technology to connect people with activities and make the world a healthier place; potentially saving the lives of thousands of people.”

The Categories

The guys at active did something really cool for this event.  They broke the submissions up into three categories.

  1. Students – There were a bunch of students from SDSU, UCSD and other schools. Just because they were students didn’t mean their apps weren’t up to par though.  There were some great apps that spanned both mobile and web platforms presented. 
  2. Active Employees – These folks work for active and as such have access to more data sets and APIs than everybody else.  There were some awesome projects presented.  One made heavy use of SQL Server, SharePoint and Excel for a variety of data visualizations.  The winning team used Neo4j to build a graph database on top of Active’s data.  It was really cool to see what they developed in a just one day.   
  3. Developers – Everybody else.  This was my category and the competition was tough.  Every app presented deserved to win!  The first place winner created an app to help people “find love” at the events they attend.  It was a great idea around match making and getting active!

The Criteria

  • Design: Is the application polished, visually appealing, and easy to use?
  • Effective use of the ACTIVE Network platform: Does the application take advantage of the unique functionality offered by the ACTIVE Network platform?
  • Utility: Is the application compelling and/or indispensable?
  • Relevancy to the theme: How well does the application help connect people with an active lifestyle?
  • Originality of concept: Is the application unique and/or innovative?

My Submission – PhatActive



My submission took 3rd place in the “Developer” category. PhatActive was an app that helps you to get more excitement out of the activities you go to by competing with your friends in pre-event challenges.  You can use PhatActive to get more active, get your friends active, earn some bragging rights, and have fun along the way.

I started developing it as a cross-platform app using Xamarin, but ran into some complexities around the OAuth workflows used by Azure Mobile Services.  Those are certainly problems that can be resolved, but due to the constrained time frame of the hackathon, I focused instead just on Windows Phone 8.  I was able to get further than I expected, but of course there is still much of the app left to implement. 

I allow users to login using any of the major authentication providers (thanks to Windows Azure Mobile Services).  Then, using the Activity Search API V2, I pulled back a list of upcoming events close to you.  You can then pick an event to issue a challenge. 

The remainder was mocked up, but the challenge page could either show you a list of “friends” from your connected social networks, or generate a “CHALLENGE CODE” that you could email to invite people from outside your social networks. 

A “Challenge” in the first phase of the app is focused simply on miles “moved”.  You don’t have to run, but you can’t drive.  The GPS on your mobile device is polled periodically using a background task..  It compares the current position to the last know position stored in Windows Azure Mobile Services.  As long as you didn’t move faster than a human can run (say 13 miles an hour) then the distance between the two points is added to your total and tracked against the goal set in the challenge. 

The same process is done for all of your friends who have accepted the challenge, and you can track everybody’s status on the “track” view of the app.   



Additional Features

I had some additional features I wanted to add if I had time

Side Bets

During a challenge, you could create a “side-bet” with another person in the challenge.  You could bet them a certain number of miles that they couldn’t complete a shorter, more intense (say 10 miles in two day) side challenge.  If you accomplish the side bet, and they don’t, you win the “miles” you bet, and they lose the same number of miles. 


Badges could be earned by users of the apps at a variety of milestones:

  • Creating a challenge
  • Accepting a challenge
  • Completing a challenge
  • Winning a challenge
  • etc.,

Lessons Learned

I was a little too ambitious for a 24 hour hackathon and being a single member team.  I spent a number of hours trying to resolve the authentication issues for a cross-platform app.  Eventually, I stopped and focused just on Windows Phone 8.  I should have started with just Windows Phone at first, and expanded the project if I had time.

A common problem of mine is that I’m very visual.  I spent a lot of time on the visual aspects of my app (logo, layout, etc.) and because of that I wasn’t able to get as far on the functionality as I would have liked.  However, I have a hunch that the look and feel of my presentation is what helped me place 3rd.  So, that’s a trade off, and I tell participants that all the time.  NOBODY’s app will be 100% complete.  Make your story compelling and tell it well, show what does work, and be honest about what doesn’t. 

I chose to use screen shots rather than a live demo.  That still kind of eats at me, I wish I had demoed the app running in the emulator.  The benefit of the screenshots in the slide deck is that I knew there wouldn’t be any demo gremlins or faulty internet connections jumping in a breaking my demo.  That happened to a number of other presenters.  The downside is that people wonder if anything really worked at all, or if it was all just smoke and mirrors. 


If it isn’t obvious yet, I had a fantastic time, met a ton of great people, and learned a lot.  The HACKTIVE team from Active.com and all the partners and sponsors did an outstanding job putting this event together! I’m looking forward to the next one!

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