The Grand Programming Challenge at WWW 2011

I recently received an email which provides updates about the WWW 2011 conference. As this year’s conference will be held in Hyderabad, India I suspect there won’t be as many participants from the UK as there has been in the past. Despite the difficulties which Web researchers and developers  are likely to face in attending this conference I thought it was worth mentioning one new feature of this year’s conference: the Grand Programming Challenge.

This 24 hour programming contest will take place in the Developer’s Track at the conference.  Contestants in teams of 3-5 will be expected to work at the conference venue and in 24 hours build a web-based system that best addresses the needs of one of three themes which will be announced on 30 March. The contest will be judged by a jury of eminent software developers the following day, with the winners announced in the evening. The winning team will win a prize of 100,000 Rupees (~ £1,378).

The organisers have made arrangements with  Amazon, Google and Microsoft who have agreed to make their cloud computing environments available to the participants. In addition to these platforms, the organizers are exploring ways to organize access to data sources such as UID infrastructure and travel and tourism sites. Participants will be  encouraged to explore open APIs for services such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn,  etc. Access from mobile enabled devices in addition to desktop Web browsers will be expected. Access to systems for individuals with special needs and multi-lingual support will also be encouraged.

The JISC-Funded DevCSI Project

The approaches taken in the Grand Programming Challenge have many similarities to the work of the JISC-funded DevCSI project which is being led by colleagues at UKOLN. As described on the project’s home page:

DevCSI is about helping software developers realise their full potential, by creating the conditions for them to be able to learn, to network effectively, to share ideas and to collaborate, creating a ‘community’ of developers in the learning provider sector which is greater than the sum of its parts. So with every developer employed in in a learning provider organisation in the UK comes a wealth of talent and experience. The developer benefits. The sector benefits. The main thrust of DevCSI activity currently is to run and/or sponsor events for and by developers and to encourage a community to form around these shared activities. The main developer challenge event organised in 2010 was the Open Repositories 2010 Developer Challenge which took place at the Open Repositories 2010  conference held in Madrid. The challenge was issued in a single sentence:

Create a functioning repository user-interface, presenting a single metadata record which includes as many automatically created, useful links to related external content as possible.

As described in a blog post about the challenge the awards were announced at the conference dinner (the night of Spain vs Germany semi-final at the World Cup!) with the summary of the winners entry (from Rory McNicholl and Richard Davis, University of London Computer Centre) being captured on video. In addition to this high profile developer challenge DevCSI has run a  number of events for developers including, in the past two months,  Linked Data Hackdays, Workflow Tools, Developing for the Mobile Web and Agile Prototyping Techniques. Further information on these and forthcoming events available on the DevCSI Netvibes page.

An Opportunity For Developers in the UK?

In light of the expertise possessed  by developers across the UK higher education community including expertise in rapid development work which takes place at DevCSI events and similar hack fests throughout the sector might the WWW 2011 Grand Programming Challenge provide an opportunity for engagement by UK-based developers? I don’t know if the rules or the etiquette of programming challenges permits the involvement of remote participants – the rules for the Open Repositories 2010 Developer Challenge, for example, state that  “The entries must be presented, in person, at OR10. Not all of the team members need be present at OR10, but at least one team-member must be” but it is unclear as to whether such virtual participation is restricted to official members of a team.

However in light of the difficulties and costs of travelling to India I did wonder whether remote participation with teams physically present at WWW 2011 might be a possibility and, indeed, encouraged. After all open source software development is most effective when it is carried out in an open and collaborative fashion. Do we know of UK-based developers who might be planning attending WWW 2011 and enter the competition?  And can we explore ways of collaboration – after all, the time zone differences may work to the advantage of a globally distributed development team.