On a warm spring evening in the Civic Hall event space in lower Manhattan, five judges representing Audible’s leadership meet to discuss the projects demoed. Various topics are debated including, “The use of technology” and “Creativity of the idea.”. Most important is the “customer obsession” aspect, a critical evaluator used within Audible before launching a feature or product. Audible always strives to work backward from the customer experience to ensure user needs are first and foremost in the idea. The projects here are judged similarly.
Most important is the “customer obsession”
This, Audible’s first external hackathon, has been a dream deferred for years. In 2015, Cre8athon and Designathon, both internal, were met with huge success. This external version is focused on bringing the Audible API to the public. The API is used internally and has several third party teams working on integration, but Audible would like to make it available to all, for use in building these type of creative apps. This event serves as a proving ground for the API as well as the documentation and support around it. If the documentation provided is enough to get these brilliant hackers started, it should be a good starting point for future integrations. The hackers will also provide feedback on missing or difficult-to-use features.
Preparation for the hackathon began last year, but really ramped up in late winter, with several campus visits through New York City. Representatives from the technology, recruiting, and brand teams attended sessions on the campuses of Columbia, CUNY City College, School of Visual Arts, Parsons, and Cornell Tech, through February and March. At these sessions, they explained the hackathon, the Audible API, and Audible’s culture to students and faculty. These also helped teams begin to formulate ideas and meld together.
On Friday night, Audible employees and hackathon participants met in Civic Hall, a huge downtown space with a large event hall, breakout spaces, work areas, and conference rooms. The event kicked off with introductions by some of the judges including Don Katz, Audible’s CEO and founder, as well as Francis Shanahan, VP of technology. Don spoke about the mission of Audible and how the hackathon could help bring the vision of the spoken word everywhere. Francis shared his personal story of how he was inspired by the way Audible serves customer needs, and explained how the event could result in more stories like these having happy endings.
Teams were introduced not only to the other teams, but also in some cases, to each other. Yes, several teams were formed online, meeting for the first time in person on the stage. One team was multinational and another composed of students from a university in Singapore. The teams explained their ideas as well.
On Friday, Audible shared a data visualization of Audible’s aggregated listener behavior and a booth where participants could try their hand at narrating an audiobook and be rated by software on a five-star scale.
On Friday night and into Saturday morning, teams began hacking, putting together their ideas and onboarding to the Audible API. A workshop session was held Saturday morning for the API and features. Throughout the day there was tremendous support from Audible employees who served as mentors to the teams and helped with the API. Teams met with mentors from API, technology, User Experience, and product. A “working at Audible” session also informed participants a bit more about Audible culture and some of the things being worked on.
On Saturday night, the teams presented their ideas and demos through presentations to the judges. Beyond Don and Francis; David Reid, Senior Director of UX and Design; Kalpana Banerjee, Senior Director of Product; and Tyler Lund, Senior Manager of Software Development for the Audible API team judged the demos. Projects focused on all kinds of listening: ideas around using audio for pets, VR for kids, and a live video app for sharing a listening experience across space. The breadth of ideas was staggering, and employees reported finding it incredibly inspirational. The judging panel loved the passion from the participants and felt that teams quickly embraced the mission of Audible.
The event was by all accounts a huge success and Audible collected great feedback on the API. Stay tuned for more information on future events!