Here at Nestoria HQ we regularly sit down together for a Tech Talk where we learn about impressive, new things that are going on with the site, or the industry. Sometimes one of our team speaks and sometimes the office is graced with guest speakers. Two of our most recent guests being the impressively new and talented Ainsley Escorce-Jones and Tom Hartley. In fact, at 18 and 17, quite a few of us were slightly green about just how new and impressive they are.
These guys recently won the ‘Best in Show’ application at Young Rewired State 2012 - using the Nestoria API to create an app. called SmartMove. Their app. is designed to help people decide where to live, based on a breakdown of the communities they’re considering joining.
Post-Tech-Talk we tried them out on the interview process, so here are their comments on their project and on us:
Firstly, what’s SAP YRS 2012? And how did you come to be part of it?
Ainsley: SAP YRS 2012 was a week long hackathon hosted by Young Rewired State, young programmers were assigned to centres and then given from Monday to Friday to produce an application using any form of open data they could find. I actually first read about it whilst reading Ars Technica on holiday and thought that it would be quite enjoyable as I’d never really written anything with people my own age or attended a Hackathon. So I registered on the site and was assigned to the centre over at Profero, a creative agency in Camden along with Tom.
How long did you think about SmartMove for before you got involved with the competition?
Tom: We actually hadn’t thought about the idea at all. The team first met each other on the Monday, and we spent all morning brainstorming. We came up with a couple of ideas, and eventually settled upon the idea of creating an app which helped people find an area they’d like to live in. Many of the other features we added, such as giving the user detailed information (crime breakdown, percentage of population unemployed, etc.) on an area, were thought of later on during the week.
What functionality, if any, is it missing that you’d like to be able to add? And what other datasets would you have liked to include, but that aren’t available (yet)?
Tom: After using the app, testers felt that allowing them to create a shortlist of houses they’re interested in (for later review), would be a really useful feature. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to complete this during the week. However, I’ve been working on it recently, and it will hopefully be present in the version we release on the App Store.
Regarding additional data, I thought it would be pretty cool to include broadband speeds, so that users could choose a house based on the quality of the Internet connection (This criteria was close to the whole teams hearts!). However, we couldn’t find granular enough data on this for London.
Nice thinking, certainly very relevant to us too… What were some of the other ideas you saw and liked at Rewired?
Ainsley: I think the other finalists at YRS 2012 all had really cool applications, my personal favourites were Postcode Wars which was a really cool bit of fun that I could see spreading virally, as Google Wars were once upon a time, it was a simple idea but executed really well and was pretty engaging. here.
Another personal favourite was an application which sadly didn’t win any prizes (did recieve a special mention however), it used historical images from the Manchester Image Archive and produced side by side comparisons of images from the past and current images using Google Street view, you can find more information on it
I know Tom was really impressed with "Way to Go" which was an application which allowed disabled people to find places that they could access and also rate them based on accessibility.
What did you learn from SmartMove?
Ainsley: Developing the backend and API for SmartMove was a pretty enjoyable and sometimes challenging experience, probably most of the issues came from parsing all the various data sources in their different formats into something that I’d be able to work from and also the understanding the quirks of the Geospatial features of MySQL.
I think the main thing I learnt developing SmartMove is how different the dynamic is working in person with a team. I’m used to doing Freelance software engineering online, but being across the table from the frontend developer you’re working alongside was a refreshing change, although it’s nice to work from home and be able to focus solely on what you’re coding, being able to coordinate and work on new features in parallel and get instant feedback on how things were shaping up was excellent.
Tom: From a technical perspective, I learned a lot about working with the different APIs which Apple provides for displaying and annotating maps (which I had not used before), however the greatest thing I learned was the value of teamwork. With Ainsley working on the backend and feeding me data, I could play to my strengths - designing the front end application - and didn’t have to mess around with any scary databases. This dramatically reduced the time it would otherwise have taken to create the app..
What did you prioritise on the front end in this project? And is this different to your normal priorities?
Tom: For SmartMove, rather than working from the ground up by creating individual elements and composing them to form an application, I worked downwards from a higher level. This was very beneficial due to the fact we only had one week to create the app - I could ensure that at each stage of development I had a working app., and just add features one by one, until the night before we needed to present it, where I imposed a hold on new features and concentrated on fixing the few remaining bugs.
Furthermore, I focused a lot less on code quality and organisation, and a lot more on just ‘getting it to work’. This provided short term benefits in terms of quicker development times, however it has come back to bite me recently, so I’ve been working on refactoring some of the uglier code.
Always a tricky question, but do you guys have any ideas about how you’d monetise SmartMove?
Tom: We considered several different approaches to monetization, however we felt that all of them were detrimental in some way. I felt that advertisements would detract from the overall polish and quality of the app.. The whole team agreed that they’d be much happier to see 1000 people using it for free, than 10 people using it for 70p each. We therefore decided that we will release the app for free initially, and if it turns out to be popular, we may attempt to arrange deals with some estate agents, whereby they pay a fee to have their results displayed more prominently in the app..
And how ‘bout any bright ideas for Nestoria? What could we be doing that we’re not? (Don’t feel like you have to be nice to us, we can take it!)
Ainsley: I think the Nestoria API is what tipped the balance in favour of developing SmartMove over any other app knowing that the house listing data was available convinced us that we’d be able to make a pretty complete house-hunting experience in a very short period of time we had.
I think what Nestoria is doing is great and I really like that you guys decided to do a fully open API, without the need for any sort of payment or even API keys.
I don’t really think there’s much I could suggest in the way of new features of the Nestoria API, although I think your PHP library was missing bathrooms in the options last time I checked, I added the two lines for it, for use in SmartMove however which can be found here.
Big cheers to the guys for playing with our API and of course congratulations on the win. And best wishes for the future… Maybe see you again in a few years time…