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Stories from Quantathon MMXIV: Team Quantstep

It’s all been leading up to this: “Judgment Week” for Quantathon MMXIV, Quantcast’s annual hackathon. 43 teams are presenting their project ideas to a panel of judges comprised of Quantcast leadership. Prestige and prizes are at stake. Before the judging began, we took the time to chat with a few of the teams competing this year. This project idea for Quantathon MMXIV comes from Team Quantstep:

As members of the Advertise Reporting Team, Jordan Ezzell and Ray Wu spend a lot of time monitoring data. Quantcast is one of the top five big data processing organizations in the world, processing up to 30 Petabytes a day. Needless to say, the Advertise Reporting Team is incredibly busy and a good amount of time is needed to manage all of this data — equivalent to more than half of the entire written works of mankind from the beginning of recorded history, in all languages. With so many different jobs running, certain tasks can impede on efficient use of time. Monitoring the status of an update, for instance, is an automated process that can go on in the background but still requires multiple check-ins.

Jordan and Ray asked themselves, “Is there a better way to do this? Why monitor things with just our eyes? Why not listen?” So, they created a system to transform real-time events into aural cues embedded in synthesized Dubstep music. It’s an entirely new way of perceiving data and making efficient use of their time by using a sense beyond the visual. They’re able to focus on one of their many projects and hear when important things happen in the background – all while listening to their completely original Dubstep music. Suddenly file transfers are not just continuous data, but intelligent sound. At 30% uploaded the drum loop is interrupted by a womp-womp sound. At 50% an even louder and complex mix of womps and zuzz-zuzz sound off. Finally, when 100% is reached, the “song” drops into a flurry of drum and bass goodness; a Dubstep finale.

Inspired by an external project they saw where music was generated based on real-time events, Jordan and Ray thought, “Wow that sounds awful, but it looks really fun. We should do this for our data.” Starting off as a joke, they pitched the idea of “Dubstep Data” to many people, but the more they talked about it the more they wanted to actually do it.

When asked about future applications, Jordan and Ray spoke about improving the amount of information that’s conveyed by sound. “We have sounds being generated from data,” Ray says, “whether or not it’s pleasing is a different question.” A statement that speaks more to the polarizing opinions surrounding Dubstep music than the quality of Ray and Jordan’s project.

Could the next iteration bring the sounds of a thunderstorm to communicate the amount of ad impressions served? What about country music that speeds up or down to convey increases or decreases in website traffic? Perhaps we’ll see these potential applications manifest at future Quantathons, but now, team “Quantstep” is gunning for the Best Audio and Visual experience presentation this year. With this creative idea, they’ll definitely have the judges dancing in their seats.

Posted by Capri Mali LaRocca, Marketing Communications Associate