Yatr: Our hack for the Techcrunch NYC Hackathon

This weekend Gabo, Rob and I participated at the Techcrunch Disrupt NYC Hackathon, a 24 hour coding event where you come out the other side with some product. We decided to make a comments/conversation engine with some interesting twists named Yatr.

Why Comments?

It took us quite a while to reach a decision (actually till about 30 mins before the event) on what we would build. Comments are interesting for a couple of reasons.

  • Comments are really important but mostly neglected in the social world. If you look at the apps space, there are a million “link farming” apps that grab the top stories from your Twitter stream and yet there arent much that bring out the conversations around them.
  • A lot of blogs disallow comments completely (usually citing low signal to noise ratio).
  • Conversations often tend to get too specific: For example, a conversations around “iPhone4” are interesting to people who have Android phones. It would be great to surface these products up into a “phones” conversation. Even better, I’d like to subscribe to the top conversations around phones
  • I had been reading a lot of posts like this: https://drumbeat.org/en-US/challenges/beyond-comment-threads/
  • We wanted to blur the line between comments and content (blog posts). Yatr comments were supposed to be embeddable and a subaccount could be used as a blog engine on its own.

The Hack:

Our hack (video below), involved a bookmarklet that allows you to comment on any link. This comment can be shared to Twitter but also gets added to our database. Additionally we used a Readability library to find the relevant content on the page and then a term extraction library to find the main words in the post to try to find the appropriate tags (additionally I would like to use a clustering algorithm to improve the context recognition system). When a comment is made, we add that to all the relevant topics we can find.

On the other side, we created unique pages for each of the items commented upon, both the links specifically and also the tags on the content. The pages get pretty interesting where we Embed.ly ( and in the future DuckDuckGo‘s zero click API) to add more information to the page. The video below for example takes you from the link about “Portal 2” to the tag page with a bunch of popular links around Portal 2.

The whole App was written in Sinatra. I am a Ruby noob so I had been looking for a project to play with some middleware/Ruby. A big part of my goal for the hackathon was to learn using a new technology and I definitely came out of that pretty educated.

We had a lot of ideas on what this could/should be (actually all 3 of us had different ideas on what we wanted it to be, it didn’t help that all of us have very different opinions on social networking 😉 ). I am hoping to fix a bunch of things before putting it online, even if just for kicks.

P.S: Also check out Rob’s post on the event. He has photos and stuff!


Author: Arpit Mathur

Arpit Mathur is a Principal Engineer at Comcast Labs where he is currently working on a variety of topics including Machine Learning, Affective Computing, and Blockchain applications. Arpit has also worked extensively on Android and iOS applications, Virtual Reality apps as well as with web technologies like JavaScript, HTML and Ruby on Rails. He also spent a couple of years in the User Experience team as a Creative Technologist.

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