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Illinois Freshmen Win Facebook Midwest Regional Hackathon

The Facebook Midwest Regional Hackathon brought in 400 students to take part. Students from Purdue, Chicago, and Wisconsin also came to Urbana to take part in this event held in the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science.

CS freshman Joel Einbinder (left) and ECE freshman Zach Smith won the Facebook Midwest Regional Hackathon.
CS freshman Joel Einbinder (left) and ECE freshman Zach Smith won the Facebook Midwest Regional Hackathon.

This year, two freshmen won the competition: CS student Joel Einbinder and ECE student Zach Smith.

“We called our project Music Compass,” said Einbinder. “We took a whole bunch of data of what artists are similar to other artists and put them on a map. So you could find artists grouped by area. You could move through that and play music from that area.”

“The data was from Last.fm,” said Smith. “All the different artists were grouped. There was an island of rap down in a corner, and then pop was in the middle because it is kind of interconnected with a lot of different genres. When you zoomed in, you could see the little artists near the big names that a lot of people didn’t know really existed.”

Perhaps the largest difficulty was obtaining the data. They were able to acquire their date from Last.fm, which had it feely available. “You can use it, but you just can’t get it that quickly,” Einbinder said, noting that a major portion of their project involved waiting for the data to download. “There are a lot of complicated algorithms that move all the artists around. We had to wait for them to load.”

“This is the second year did we did a Midwest Regional Hackathon at Illinois,” said Rebecca Roa, a university recruiter with Facebook. “All of the students are so passionate about hacking. We love to see their ideas come to fruition.”

Einbinder and Smith each received a Google Nexus 7 tablet for winning the Hackathon. They also had the opportunity to attend the Hackathon Finals competition on November 20-22. The finals were a truly global competition, with teams from the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. There Einbinder and Smith did a project called VStamp involving stickers, QR codes, and aspects of social media. That project received honorable mention, placing fourth out of the 12 teams competing.