March 11, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Lady Gaga Backplane Hackathon Winners: Better Shuffle, Twitter Music, SMS Requests

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Plenty of companies come to SXSW Interactive to show off their creations. Others come here to create.

Backplane, which runs Lady Gaga’s LittleMonsters community, sponsored a hackathon at SXSW 2012 gathered scores of software programmers to build new stuff in the spirit of Music Hack Day, with three apps taking the top three prizes — the first music hackathon ever to be streamed live to Times Square (really!). Without further ado, here are the winners.

Third Place: Shuffle

“As an introduction, we think the shuffle function on the Apple phone sucks,” said the group’s spokesman, a Backplane employee, pictured above. “Pandora is trying to solve this problem by introducing the music you like into radio. We think we can do better. As hackers, we try to fix this problem by building an awesome product. That’s what we’re going to introduce today: Shuffle.”

Building on the Nike Fuelband API announced at the Backplane hackathon, this team’s Shuffle app builds radio stations based on location, the sound around you, your speed, the weather, and other forms of data to figure out which song to play next. In nice sunny weather, it plays higher energy; and in the rain, it plays sadder songs. The app monitors your activities throughout the day to figure out when you need to hear what, and the display reflects what songs are playing (a sun for happy music, and so on). Finally!

Second Place: TuneTweets 

This app scours your Twitter feed looking for Spotify links, then builds a Spotify playlist out of them. Simple.

“The idea was: I love to share music and I love to discover music from my friends,” TweetTunes creator Iain Mullan, a freelance web developer based in London, told “But a lot of the time, you’ll miss out because you’re not online when they post it, and it’s just gone forever.”

He said he’s going to keep working on TuneTweets at Music Hack Day Amsterdam, “so that it’s ready to be released on the Spotify platform as soon as possible.”

First Place: RequestLine

The idea behind RequestLine is to democratize the already ridiculously-new concept of requesting music in a bar or restaurant using a smartphone app by extending this capability to mere mortals who have normal smartphones. Only the party-thrower, bar owner, or restauranteur need run a smartphone app, which generates its own SMS number per install. People who want to request songs just need to text their requests to the custom-generated number.

“It’s a Spotify app,” Twilio developer Stevie Graham told “The user gets a telephone number that people can text in the name of the song they want to hear, and it uses the Spotify API to find out what the song is using the SMS message, and sends it down to a company called PushUp, and then Spotify plays it and puts it in a playlist. It’s a democratic way of solving what music to play… The lowest common denominator on all cellphones is SMS, so everyone can participate in it.”

His secret to winning the hackathon? Preparation.

“From time to time, I have these ideas for cool hacks,” added Graham. “I just make a mental note of them, and when it comes to hackathons, I just pull them out of the repertoire and just execute it.”