Interview with Thomas Hansen, organiser of the Gaia Programming Contest

Interview with Thomas Hansen, organiser of the Gaia Programming Contest


I had the chance to interview Thomas Hansen, who recently announced the Gaia Programming Contest (€10,000 reward). Here are his enlightening answers!

TM: Hello Thomas. Please tell us something about you and about the company running the contest!

Well, I am one of the founders of Gaiaware and the "father" of Gaia Ajax Widgets. Originally it was me and Stian Solberg having the idea that the world needed a better alternative for doing Ajax, and then from that the ball just started rolling. Today we're 7 people and we grew from 2 to 7 people from February 2007 to January 2008.

I have done Open Source GUI libraries for 5 years now. First I founded SmartWin++ which is a BSD licensed C++ GUI library. (http://smartwinlib.org) but immediately when I started doing Ajax I understood that this was the future. I understood it for two reasons; firsly, when we started out there was no adequate alternative for doing Ajax - it's a "virgin market". Secondly, it's an explosive market. Ever since Jesse James Garrett gave Ajax its name in February 2005, the market for solving Ajax problems have been exploding. And of course creating Ajax Libraries is very fun.

The Company actually started out with a different idea, which was to create an ordering system for Service Companies. For this we used SmartWin++ on PDAs for the Service Workers. And we had an administrative website where super users could administrate their Service Workers. This was the reason that we started doing Ajax. We needed an Ajax solution ourselves for creating this administration website. And at the time there were no such Ajax solutions. So we started on Gaia Ajax Widgets. Long before we had anything even close to finished in regards to Gaia we understood that Gaia was what we wanted to do and where the future was. Today we have stopped all development on the original Service Ordering System.

TM: So, what's the contest about?

The contest is about creating a piece of GPL Software using Gaia Ajax Widgets which might function as a "communication portal" for solving the problems the Earth has the next 100 years. This includes environmental issues like the: the global warming problem, preservation of species, creating peace, and removing starvation and poverty. Now we don't expect anybody to be able to actually solve these problems by themselves. But if we're lucky someone might actually be able to ignite a project which will help out the people dedicated to solving these problems to get better communication channels and tools for solving these problems.

TM: Somebody pointed out that the contest topic is a little vague, and that it will make it hard to pick a winner. How did you address the issue?

LOL! :)

I feel a little bit guilty in that regard myself since we wanted the competition rules to be "vague". The reason why we chose that path was so that, by creating very strict rules, we wouldn't restrict people's creativity. We wanted to "give room" for really brilliant and creative ideas which would have been impossible if we weren't "vague" on the rules. A good example would be somebody creating an Ajax Mashup control using Gaia and GMaps which helps to calculate distances for virtual net meetings, and calculated how many kilos of CO2 were saved by holding a "virtual meeting" compared to everybody getting in to their cars and driving the distance. If we were too strict on the rules of the contest, then the contest may not allow room for such ideas. At the same time we also feel that communication is a key point which nothing can bypass. So it must be a meeting place for people dedicated to "the cause".

On the other hand, some parts of the rules are VERY clear and have no room for creativity at all. For instance the software must be GPL and it MUST be 100% compilable and runnable on a pure free software stack. This means that you cannot use MS SQL as your (only) data provider and the software must run and compile on Mono. Gaiaware is very serious about GPL and free software!

If people have questions about the contest they are very welcome to post them on the GaiaWidget site. If they don't want to post their questions in public they can also send us an email with the question to post@ajaxwidgets.com. If people have an idea for what they want to create and they are uncertain if the idea is within the boundaries of the contest then I encourage people to ask us about it before starting out. If sent to our email we will handle the question confidentially so that one else "steals" the idea for as long as the contest runs...

TM: Who will pay the generous amount of money? How did you come up with that figure?

We will pay 5000 EUROs and the Dag Andersen's organisation will pay 5000 EUROs. We had an idea for a contest because we wanted to really make a difference. And Dag Andersen (on the jury) had the idea about what the contest should be about. In fact much of the criteria for the contest comes from Dag Andersen's "100 years questions".

TM: Have you had any submissions yet? How is it looking?

At the moment I only know about one team who will participate for sure. And I don't know how much work (if any) this team has done. I have no idea what their idea is either. So at the moment the chances of winning the contest if you participate are huge! Unless all the people wanting to attend are keeping it a "secret" for us too...

I really want to encourage people to participate, if you think about it, an hour of development on weekdays and some few hours every Saturday from now on and until 1st of April might actually earn you 10,000 EUROs...

Maybe if you're a student you can combine this with a student task too.

TM: Once an entry is submitted, is that "it"? Or, are you discussing things with participants?

Well until the 1st of April any team or person can submit as many times as he wants to, and in our forums we are open to discussing ideas. In addition to that if people want us to have a look at what they have done so far, we are willing to do this, though we must at the same time be neutral. Especially me, since I am on the jury. But if somebody sends in something which doesn't run on Mono for instance we would let them know that they must fix this as long as the deadline of 1st of April is held.

TM: Have you had a return from the contest? More downloads, for example?

These things are very difficult to measure, we had a little spike at our website the day we went public with the contest. But far less than what we hoped for. I guess part of what we commercially gain from the contest is that users sees us as a more "serious" company since we're able to spend that amount of money on a prize for a contest. Also it probably helps us building our brand. But at the end of the day it's all about doing the things we want to do. Help change the world and tip the scale a little bit in the right direction.

TM: Will there be more contests?

It depends, if we have one participant with 5 lines of code then we must conclude with that it was a gigantic failure. If we get several really good pieces of software out of this we will definitely hold more contests. Though 2000 EUROs per line of code becomes expensive and unproductive pretty soon so it depends very much on the results.

Thank you very much for your time!

Thank you Tony for having me.

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Tony is the founder and the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine