Flipside coders win hackathon with Wikipedia-editing app

April 17, 2013, 7:31 p.m.

A team of current and former staffers of The Stanford Flipside, a weekly satirical publication, won a “comedy hackathon” held at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters in early April with an app that allows users to quickly insert text into modified Wikipedia pages.

Flipside President Conor Doherty ’13 said that the motivation behind the “Citation Needed” app was to “prove to your friends things that you made up that aren’t true.”

“There can never be factual disputes anymore because everything is Googleable,” Doherty said. “[The app] won’t actually edit the Wikipedia page, but it will make a facsimile page with the false information that you wanted to prove to your friends.”

More than 65 participants competed through 16 projects at the Comedy Hack Day, which was hosted by Cultivated Wit. According to Cultivated Wit CEO Baratunde Thurston, the hackathon was the first third-party event hosted at the Twitter headquarters.

Thurston compared the event to a next-generation comedy show, put on with the intent of creating a new genre of humor. In the future, Thurston expressed hope that comedy hackathons will become regular events, just like other comedy shows.

“The idea was to take a hackathon and make it better,” Thurston said. “It was definitely successful– we had participants make comedy apps in a weekend, or less. It was brilliant.”

Thurston said that while there were “a bunch of weird, fun projects” at the event, The Flipside’s app stood out because it was fully functional as well as funny.

“It was good tech that actually works,” Thurston said about The Flipside’s entry. “They had real code that ran.”

The Flipside team was one of the largest at the event, with 15 members. Doherty said that the leaflet’s founder Jeremy Keeshin ’12 and former vice president Zach Galant ’12 wrote most of the code in less than an hour, though other team members contributed to the coding as well.

“We had the best combination of a product that actually worked and something funny,” Doherty said. “There were a lot of other good ideas, but they weren’t able to quite implement them.”

According to Doherty, the comical theme of the theme of the event continued through the awards ceremony, where the team members were handed “a ridiculous number of trophies.”

“The whole thing was a visual gag,” said current Flipside vice president Kyle Hoffer <\#213>14 said. “They handed us a comically large number of trophies and took photos of us struggling with them.”

The team also won one-year subscriptions to GitHub and Radio, a promotional suite for the app from funnyordie.com, 100,000 MailChimp credits and a trip to Los Angeles for an event hosted by The Nerdist.

According to Doherty, the event was probably the last comedy hackathon that the Flipside will compete in. Doherty said that the team would “like to go out on top,” and expressed uncertainty about whether development on Citation Needed would continue.

“Some people might work on it in the future, but right now, not much,” Doherty said. “No one really penciled in working on a comedy app into their spring quarter schedule.”

Hoffer, however, was more optimistic about the future of the app.

“All the work was there,” he said. “Some people might be excited about it and might want to turn it into an actual app– right now, it’s just a website optimized for mobile devices.”

Nitish Kulkarni '16 is a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He writes about technology and breaking news, and runs online content sections. Email him at nitishk2 'at' stanford.edu.

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