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Brad Petersen
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1066 ECE Building
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Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 244-6376
bradp@illinois.edu

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Meg Dickinson
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megd@illinois.edu

Illinois freshmen win Facebook Midwest Regional Hackathon

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By Tom Moone, CS @ ILLINOIS
December 18, 2013

  • Two freshmen—ECE student Zach Smith and CS student Joel Einbinder—won the Facebook Midwest Regional Hackathon.
  • Their project—Music Compass—uses online data to aggregate musical preferences.
  • Over 400 college students from across the region competed at the event, which was hosted at the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science.
The Facebook Midwest Regional Hackathon brought 400 students from across the region—including from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin—to compete at the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science.
 
ECE freshman Zach Smith (right) and CS freshman Joel Einbinder won the Facebook Midwest Regional Hackathon.
ECE freshman Zach Smith (right) and CS freshman Joel Einbinder won the Facebook Midwest Regional Hackathon.
This year, two freshmen won the competition: ECE student Zach Smith and CS student Joel Einbinder.
 
“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 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 US, 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.
 

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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