Home RWW Special: MLB.com Challenges Students to Reinvent Web Sports

RWW Special: MLB.com Challenges Students to Reinvent Web Sports

Suppose you had an opportunity, along with five or six of your closest friends and colleagues, to present one pitch for a stunning new concept in Web sports entertainment. Your audience would be a group of venture capitalists who have money to burn, and will invest it in someone – maybe one of 16 other groups. Your toolset could be anything the Web has to offer. But your presentation time is in 14 hours.

You’ve seen how the Web has been transformed in just the past year by JavaScript libraries, HTML5, new development environments, faster-evolving browsers. Maybe you have an inside lead on something your colleagues don’t. Today on RWW, we’re going to do something a bit differently. We’re going to follow a real-life story as it happens, of 72 Syracuse University students who’ve been challenged by the producers of the official Web site of Major League Baseball to reinvent online sports overnight. Literally.

Carmelo Anthony center, Syracuse University campus, 6:30 pm ET November 10 – It gets dark earlier now, which may be just as well. There wasn’t much in the way of daylight this particular day, as though someone had pulled a damp comforter over the sun.

Inside this building, members of the nation’s #5-ranked college basketball team are striding down the hallways as though their legs could move the floor from beneath them. It doesn’t look at first like the proving ground for Web technologies in the modern world.

Then when you enter the VIP banquet hall to see the university is feeding 72 of its brightest students, many of them Information Management majors, you remember it doesn’t take much free food to fuel the future. Here student contestants get their initial instructions from the very popular Information Studies professor, Jeffrey Rubin.

Josh Frost is one of three Syracuse alumni who comprise the leadership team at MLB.com, the New York City-based sports multimedia site. MLB.com is known as a Web functionality innovator in its own right, and was one of the first to give prominent support to Microsoft’s Silverlight platform. Then three years ago, the service made news when it shifted its Web video support over to Adobe Flash. MLB.com definitely follows the cusp of the trends, and has made the right shifts in tactics when it needed to.

Could the next shift come from one, or a handful, of these students? This is actually not a rhetorical question. As one of the judges in this year’s MLB.com Challenge, Frost will be playing the role of one of the VCs. Although he’ll be coaching students throughout the night tonight with tips on how to organize ideas and make presentations that turn heads, at just before noon tomorrow, when about the only place folks really want to venture is to bed, will be listening to funding pitches from development teams with names like Hashtag Swag, Saltine Warriors, and Evil Hemp-ire.

The students here knew they’d be developing a Web project, but until dinner tonight, they didn’t know what form their deliverables would need to be in. Now after assistant basketball coach Mike Hopkins peeking in for a pep talk, Frost gives the contestants their assignment. First, for some, wake up. It’s only 7 o’clock. Next, they need to plan an innovative program around improving the existing MLB.com. It can use client- or server-based technologies, or a mixture of the two. Deliverables, including source code for use in proofs-of-concept, must in the end be deposited in designated Dropbox accounts.

9:30 pm, Hinds Hall – Frost and his MLB.com colleagues, UI engineer Joe Kanakaraj and their boss, front-end development director Mike Hoffman, set up what they had hoped would be a “rapid-fire” discussion session. Already anticipating the workload, some of the nation’s future Web development leaders are practicing showing signs of strain.

The session officially dismissed after 12 minutes. But about a dozen shrewd students stayed around after most everyone else left, to ask questions of the MLB.com experts one-on-one, to get a feel for their mindset, and yes, to soften up the judges for the coming morning.

ReadWriteWeb will continue our coverage of the MLB.com Challenge Friday morning. Although the events from that point on will be timestamped, they’ll be delayed for about six hours on purpose, so as not to give competitors in this challenge advance information about other teams.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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