The Smartest Hack

As a programming newbie, I love hackathons. I have often learned more at them, than at other places. This time however I was unable to attend Microsoft's at IIT Kanpur because of my thesis commitments. However the hack that won the first place surprised me.

Usually what happens in Hackathons is the following

  1. Identify a problem that exists or something that would be interesting to build
  2. Look at a solution close to what you need and extend it.
  3. Present it.

Usually most of the products make use of some unique point about something, and extend it. This time however the team that won the first prize did something unique. They took a product and used it's weak point to build their hack.

So the hack was done by Aayush Mudgal and his friends, they built an app that aimed to improve your English, called GrammaFone. It had an awesome set of features which included ways to improve your grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. The app did the job awesomely and had an amazing interface as well.

What stood out to me, and even probably to the judges was their pronunciation tuner,which among the three I found the most novel. They way they did it, is why I think it is one of the smartest hacks I have seen. The way they did is that, they built upon the fact that the "Speech to Text" of Bing API is the worst among the three (Apple - unavailable, Google and Microsoft). The idea was to use a sentence with the main word which if modified even slightly ruined the sentence. They did try it with Google STT as well but Google being the better one allowed sub-optimal pronunciations to pass. I do not know who in their team came up with the idea, but it was one hell of an idea, and with a really good interface that they developed, it turned out to be awesome, and the best hack.

So they used the fact that the "Speech to Text" option in Bing was bad, and built up a hack on top of that. This is for me the first time, I am seeing someone use the disadvantage of a product (in a positive way) and making an app out of it.

For this theirs was the best hack and each of them got a Nokia Lumia 520 by Microsoft. I dunno about the others, but for me, it was slightly ironically humorous that Microsoft was awarding them the prize for building up on the weakness of one of their products.