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Interview with SilverlightShow Eco Contest First Runner-up Peter Kuhn

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Silverlight Show
Silverlight Show
Joined Nov 03, 2008
Articles:   25
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0 comments   /   posted on Mar 23, 2011
Categories:   Interviews

Q. Hi Peter. Congratulations on becoming the first runner-up in our Eco Contest, with your application ‘Do you twig?’! Our community already knows you as one of SilverlightShow article authors – you are currently running quite a popular series of articles on XNA for Silverlight developers. How did you decide to join our contest?

A. As with most private projects I'm working on, it was a very spontaneous decision. I read about the contest and perceived the idea of creating awareness for ecological problems as a great and sensible plug (I had completely missed 2010's contest). I instantly decided I would create an entry because I really have a soft spot for forests and trees :-).

However, I couldn't come up with anything good immediately. A few days later, when I was working on a totally unrelated problem, the idea of the dynamically growing trees came out of nowhere and I decided to give it a try. At first I wanted to give the users the ability to grow their own trees and share them with others, but after building a prototype I found that creating a simple user interface for the complex parameters wouldn't be easily possible, so I went with another idea I had, to create the quiz.

Q. Our 5 judges selected your application as the second best ones, among 26 entries! What do you think was the key advantage of your application, what impressed the judges most?

A. A good question, and it would be interesting to know what the actual reasons behind the decision really were. However, I hope that the choice was driven by the same key elements I had in mind when I designed the application:

1.) Awaken interest in the topic. I tried to use little-known and astounding facts to deliberately make the questions so hard most people would fail in answering them :). The greatest experience was to watch people test the application and see a "no way that is true!" reaction that encouraged them to click on the links I provided to read more on the topic.

2.) Provide a consistent, clean and simple design and layout. This is really the hardest part for me because I am not a designer, but I think it didn't turn out too bad in the end.

3.) The dynamically growing trees of course. That was the visual gimmick of the application and took like half of the total development time to implement, so naturally I hope that was a crucial part of the decision process too. The feedback I received on this ranged from "how do you do this?" to "sometimes I just sit there and watch your trees", which was extremely satisfying.

Q. Which part of your application was most challenging to develop, and why?

A. Most people think the dynamic trees were the hardest part in the application. After all, my blog post on the technique I used and the optimizations that became necessary shows that quite some effort went into creating them. I agree that from a technical point of view this was challenging; but it also was the most fun! I love to optimize things and tune them until they turn out really good, so that part really didn't feel like work at all but instead came naturally to me.

A lot more challenging for me was to fill the content. According to my time tracking I spent more than a dozen hours on the web looking for suitable data. I really put a lot of effort into creating those questions and making sure the information is correct and backed by some interesting resources. I read so many articles and excerpts that it feels like I at least have doubled my own knowledge about forests during that contest :-).

Q. Do you think the topic of this eco contest was a difficult one (especially considering that 80% of the contest entries were received in the last few days)? How would you rate the overall quality of this contest, what were the major problems with the apps submitted you observed?

A. I was glad that in the end a lot of entries had been submitted (even more than for the first contest), because I really like the spirit of the contest and it would've been a pity if it had not received the attention it deserves. But I agree that the topic was a lot more difficult than the more general one of the last contest.

The overall quality of the submitted apps was great. I followed the submissions closely and was amazed by some of the ideas people came up with. Unfortunately I also had problems with some of the entries, mostly regarding performance. I even couldn't get to work one of them at all, it simply stalled/crashed the browser, and apparently others had these problems as well. I think that was the most common problem: some of the entries had great ideas but problems to deliver a snappy user interface.

Q. What was your favorite among the other apps in the contest? Which apps did you give 5 leaves and why?

A. My personal favorite was "Treesaw Massacre" by Matt Cavanagh. I liked the style and design of the application, and thought it had the most original idea. The fact that you cannot win the included mini-game was a great reflection on the current real situation and really got me thinking.

Another interesting trend was to see how people tried to mash up and aggregate data from other services, and of course the social aspects and motivation to take part in a community some entries provided, for example the tree planting in "Save the Earth - plant a tree!".

Q. We plan to make one Eco contest each year, with different Eco topics of course. How would you recommend to improve the contest, would you like to suggest the topic for next year perhaps ?

A. It would be great to see the contest as a regular event. Ecological aspects become more and more relevant in a lot of aspects of our lives, so I guess there are more than enough topics for many contests to come. One thing that always seems to be a subject of discussion here in Germany and around the world are ecological aspects of our food production. That surely has very high potential to attract people's attention and for interesting app ideas.

As for the contest itself, I have to say it already has reached a professional level. The hosting and submission process work very well, and my experience was that the involved team at Silverlight Show responded very quickly to queries and provided valuable support. Rather than introducing dramatic changes I therefore would welcome small evolutionary steps to improve the contest from a technical point of view, for example provide more options for participants to maintain/update their entries and create a more robust voting system. Apart from that I hope that the contest will become more widely known even in non-developer circles and pick up even more speed next year.

Overall, I would like to thank all participants, of course the sponsors that made the contest possible, and once again my friends who were willing to beta-test and provide valuable feedback. I'm very glad I get the opportunity to visit MIX and Vegas this year!

Thanks Peter! We hope you will enjoy MIX and Vegas, and hope you will share with us your impressions from the best sessions there!



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