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From a need to a startup, thanks to a Google hackathon

From a need to a startup, thanks to a Google hackathon

June 10, 2013 at 09:30PM
Editor’s Note: Guest author Arnaud Breton is a co-founder of UniShared — Nicolas Garnier

A few weeks ago, Clément and I started to take online courses (based on videos), mainly on Coursera, edX (the MIT-Harvard venture), and Udacity, the biggest online course providers.

Right from the start, we found that it was really painful to take digital notes while watching the video lectures: we had to switch between multiple windows, struggling to interact with them (no shortcuts to play/pause, etc) and no ways of matching the notes to videos... Finally we ended up taking notes with the old fashioned and archaic pens & papers.

After giving it a thought, we were convinced that we could make this much better. We both live in Mountain View, fifteen minutes away from the Google HQ, where a Google Drive hackathon was taking place so we decided to take this opportunity to find and build a solution to our problem. And we came up with the idea of a simple Google Drive app, which would embed both the video lectures and the notes, in the same window, letting us leverage all the shortcuts. Additionally, it would enable us to synchronize the notes with the videos, to be able to smoothly go to the related part of the videos while studying our notes. During the two days - and two nights - we developed that missing app, helped by the amazing Googlers from the Drive team and meeting other amazing people who came to also give birth to their ideas or to help us.

As a tech guy, it was a new exciting challenge to build this app, especially in such a short time. Fortunately, leveraging Google robust and powerful infrastructure and frameworks made it possible. It seemed obvious for us to leverage the Google Drive and Youtube APIs, to host our app on Google App Engine and to build it with the amazing AngularJS.

At the end of the hackathon, we managed to get a viable app, enabling students to create, save and synchronize their notes and videos. We were even rewarded by the Drive team who gave us a prize for our efforts! was born!

A few hours later, we started to spread the word about our new app and were convinced that it could be as useful for other students as it was for us. Immediately, hundreds of students started to use it, giving us useful feedback on what mattered the most to them. Based on their feedback, we continued to improve our app, with the number of users increasing. Today, one month after the hackathon, more than 300 VideoNotes are created daily all around the world, and the number continues to grow day after day!

So, what’s next for us?
Obviously, continuing to improve the app based on feedback is our top priority.

Also, we have discovered new use-cases where can be useful. For example journalists contacted us to tell us that they use it to write articles based on interview records. But also people in charge of the transcription of videos are also very excited about

It got us more convinced than ever that note-taking can be drastically improved, especially by adapting it to its learning context. We want to go even further. Bringing back social interactions in online classrooms, letting students easily share their notes, again leveraging Google Drive was the first step. Adding real-time collaboration and Q&A features is the second step and we will definitely take advantage of the Google Drive Realtime API for this.

Thanks a lot to the Drive team who organized this hackathon to give our idea a try through their amazing tools! And this is just the beginning of the adventure, that started from a problem we faced, whose solution has been found at the Google hackathon, and which is just starting to reach its potential.

Arnaud Breton profile

Arnaud Breton is passionate about the impact that technologies have on the world.  He is the co-founder and CTO of UniShared /

from Google Apps Developer Blog


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