In 48 hours last weekend, 237 developer teams competed and generated a total of 137 qualifying web applications, all developed with Ruby and Rails on the back end.
The 2009 Rails Rumble was, according to organizers, the strongest yet in the contest's history. (Disclosure: I was on the "expert panel" of judges for the Rumble and got a sneak peak at a significant handful of apps.)
As microapps (as this particular brand of simple, single-function sites and widgets could be called) occupy an ever-increasing tract of Internet real estate, time-crunch events such as Startup Weekend and Rails Rumble serve as tests of skill and team-building challenges, not to mention endurance competitions as developers burn through hour after sleepless hour. Yet with each cycle, these events do produce a number of noteworthy apps that might grow into something more in the weeks and months to follow while teaching all developers valuable lessons about simplicity in interface design. Here's a quick breakdown of the eight winning Rails Rumble applications.
First Place: Hi.ImHi I'm is (yet another) service that aggregates a user's social streams to a centralized location, sort of like Retaggr, Chi.mp, and their ilk. The idea wasn't the most innovative, as many of the 80 comments on this project noted, but the user experience was as simple as following the yellow brick road. The app was developed by San Jose-based web/mobile development shop Koombea.
Second Place: How's My Code?How's My Code is a peer review tool for developers to comment on, approve of, and flag commits. Email notifications allow users to come back to ongoing discussions. If you spend more time on GitHub than Facebook, this might be an app for you to check out.
Here's a screencast explaining the app:
Third Place: TablesurfingUsing Facebook Connect, the Tablesurfing team created an app for those who are into impromptu dinner parties. "Like couchsurfing, but for tables," Tablesurfing connects users who like to cook with users who are comfortable dining in the homes of strangers (i.e., the adventurous and hungry.) Of course, the concept is replete with issues (necessary critical mass of user adoption, sketch factor of inviting those weird "Internet people" into your home), but it's a sweet idea with a nice UI.
Check out the demo video here:
Appearance Category Winner: LowdownLowdown (currently offline for post-Rumble revamping) is/was a drop-dead gorgeous task/project management tool for working with Cucumber. As the development team wrote, 'If Cucumber lets us 'describe how software should behave in plain text... in a business-readable domain-specific language' then Lowdown is the tea party where thinly sliced sandwiches are served on nice platters instead of trying to swallow it whole.' Full-featured and flexible, it was one of several related apps in the Rumble yet stood out for its pristine user interface that was a breeze to understand and use and a pleasure to look at. We look forward to playing around with the app more once it relaunches.
Take a look at this demo in the meantime:
Usefulness Category Winner: ZenVDN"Talk about ambitious - building a video delivery network for the Rumble is crazy!" So wrote expert and Viget Labs technology director Ben Scofield of ZenVDN. Perhaps the nature and scope of the project isn't such a surprise when one considers that the team behind this project also constructed web video apps ZenCoder and Flix Cloud. Ambitious or not, the site is good-looking and designed for simplicity. ZenVDN encodes videos for the web and mobile devices, allows for HD resolution and embedding, and makes use of a global content delivery network. Truth be told, as it must be on a tech news blog, we were unsuccessful in our attempts to upload a video to our profile, and ironically, the app's demo video was not embeddable.
UPDATE: ZenVDN just emailed us this embeddable version of their demo:
Completeness Category Winner: hurl
There's something to be said for constructing a full-fledged application in 48 hours. There's something else to be said for naming said application in such a way that conjures only the fondest memories of Dana Carvey in a platinum wig. Simply put, "Hurl makes HTTP requests. Enter a URL, set some headers, then view the response. Perfect for APIs." Hurl comes from Pownce founder/Six Apart engineer Leah Culver and Chris Wanstrath and will officially launch soon.
Check out the screencast for a demo:
Innovation Category Winner: LAZEROIDS!!!This team built a neverending, massively mutliplayer, peer-to-peer version of Asteroids with sound design that had commenters raving (pew! pew!). LAZEROIDS!!! (sic) was moreover developed with complete disregard for IE support. Still, experts and commenters alike were impressed with the execution and simplicity of this app. You can check out the team's blog for information on the architecture, or you can just go play the game.
Solo Category Winner: AlertMe.tv
One is the loneliest number, and special consideration was given to the developers who chose to fly solo in this competition. One of our favorite apps - a well-designed, useful tool - was AlertMe.tv, a simple system for users' opting in to notifications about their favorite TV shows. Email, SMS, or IM notifications are sent when new episodes are about to air. Adding new shows to the site's database is also particularly simple. As someone who needs to be reminded when Saturday Night Live airs, I particularly appreciate this app. Congratulations to Jacques Crocker, the Rails Jedi of Silicon Valley. Couch potatoes the world around salute you.
So, that's what the expert panel of judges and hordes of Rail-loving masses deigned the cream of the crop this year. What's your take; do any of these apps inspire or excite you?