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Jerod Santo wins Hacker News API contest with HN Trends

An example of HN Trends showing the comparison of MySpace, Facebook and Twitter mentions on the social news site. Screenshot from hntrends.jerodsanto.net.

As an almost daily reader of Y Combinator‘s Hacker News (HN) for more than three years and one of the social news site’s top 50 karma point holders, Jerod Santo fully appreciated the latest enhancement of the site, HNSearch, which was released June 4. (Photo courtesy of Santo)

“Hacker News has long needed site search,” Santo said in an email interview earlier this week. “When they finally added it, it was accompanied by an API provided by the Octopart guys (who are a YC startup).”

To kick off the addition of search and to, as the HN announcement stated, “encourage developers to build new and innovative apps using the HNSearch API,” Octopart sponsored a contest around the use of the API.

Here were the rules, from hnsearch.com/contest:

Starting June 4, 2011 hackers have 16 days to build any app that uses the HNSearch API:

  • Multiple entries are ok
  • Group entries are ok
  • International entries are ok
  • Any technologies are ok
  • Any target platforms are ok
  • Any extra sources of data are ok (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

The winner will be judged by a 24-hour HN community poll starting June 20 12:00am EST. Email your entry to hnsearch@thriftdb.com. Entries will be accepted until the poll starts.

For his entry, Santo created Hacker News Trends, a site that mimics Google Trends functionality, but while Google Trends shows the amount of times a term is searched, HN Trends shows the number of times a word is mentioned on HN. After posting it to HN on Monday, he received a very positive response – “this is truly awesome. It immediately joined my bookmark folder of favorite HN tools,” one reader wrote – and useful community feedback – “how is it normalized? every single thing I type in has an upward trend, which to me just suggests that interest in Hacker News has increased over the last few years,” another reader wrote.

Thanks to help from HN reader “retube,” Santo adjusted each data point to account for HN’s growth.

In all, his submission garnered 106 comments, and when it came to voting, it took home the hardware – he won a computer monitor – with the most votes of the 28 submissions. HN Trends earned 91 votes while second place had 41.

On HN Trends, you can look at just one term or compare up to five. As a Hacker News reader myself, this project caught my attention and I had some fun playing around with it. For example, I searched four Silicon Prairie startups and the term Silicon Prairie:

Screenshot from hntrends.jerodsanto.net

If you have any fun ones to share, please add it in a comment below (Hacker News users shared in the submission).

I conducted a short email interview with Santo to learn a little bit more about the project and about Santo.

Silicon Prairie News: What programming language did you use to create it?

Jerod Santo: The site is written in CoffeeScript, which is a language that compiles into JavaScript. This is used both on the server and the client. The back-end runs on Node.js and uses Redis to cache the trend results which are collected via the search API.

SPN: What is your full-time career?

Santo: I’m a contract developer working at a small Omaha firm called Remote Software Development, Inc (RSDi for short). I’ve had the honor to collaborate with companies like Grooveshark and Omaha’s own SecretPenguin.

SPN: Can you tell us more about the Grooveshark work?

Santo: Last year their flagship product underwent a major overhaul, going from a Flash application to an almost all html/javascript application (there’s still a little Flash in there for playback, but that’s it). They contracted me to architect and lead the rewrite, and I worked with them for about six months on the project. It launched in early December and has lived at http://listen.grooveshark.com ever since. You can read more technical details on my blog if you’re interested.

SPN: Have you created any other side projects?

Santo: Yup, quite a few. I started off writing some open source WordPress plugins, of which I’m most proud of the WordPress Console, an interactive console which aids developers when writing themes and plugins.

I have a handful of open source Ruby libraries as well, but they are less interesting.

Web apps I’ve written include one that maps your geographic location based on IP address, which isn’t too exciting now, but was novel back when I made it. And another which is just an open source example on how to use a Cappuccino library I wrote. It attempts to mimic OS X’s Address Book in a simplified manner.

If people are interested in my source code, it’s all in one place on my GitHub account.

In a follow-up email, Santo added: I forgot to mention another side project of mine, Detours. It’s a little Mac utility for redirecting your computer’s host lookups with ease. In fact, SPN briefly covered its launch last year, which I appreciated.

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