Salesforce.com tries to clear the air over hackathon controversy

Result of an investigation. PR stunt. Holiday cheer. Call it what you want, but Salesforce.com is trying to make everyone happy following a controversial conclusion to the Dreamforce hackathon.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

Dreamforce 2013 is long over but far from a distant memory -- at least for those involved with the expo's hackathon.

Normally a rather isolated event amid the hubbub and parties across the street at Salesforce.com's annual trade show, the newly-minted Salesforce1 Hackathon stole the spotlight at the very end.

Unfortunately for Salesforce.com, the extra attention has not been paid for reasons they might have wished, such as the roll-out of its new Salesforce1 mobile development platform.

Instead, the contest results have been mired in controversy after it was reported that the $1 million grand prize went to a team that included a former Salesforce.com employee and the use of preexisting code.

In hindsight, it's quite easy to see why the alarm bells went off.

In a statement on Monday, even Salesforce's chief legal officer Burke Norton admitted that the CRM giant didn't "a good enough job of communicating with the entrants about use of pre-existing code, which was allowable under certain circumstances, and that we weren't clear enough with the final round judges about the use of pre-existing code."

Following an investigation rexamining both the hackathon rules and the judging process, the San Francisco-headquartered corporation is reaffirming the previous decision and extending the top spot to two teams total, each getting $1 million in prize money.

Upshot, the original sole winning team with a mobile app for creating and editing reports while supporting plain English queries (speech or text), included a previous Salesforce.com employee who is now the startup's chief technology officer.

But according to Salesforce.com's review, that fact is irrelevant to this particular competition, reiterating that "the rules only prohibited participation by former employees of salesforce.com if they left the company after August 31, 2013, which is after the departure of the Upshot team member from salesforce.com."

As for the pre-existing code, officials said this also didn't violate the event's rules being that it didn't "comprise the majority of the app and did not violate any third party's rights."

Salesforce.com also cleared the air about the company next in line, Healthcare.love, a mobile app for picking out health coverage and plans. Salesforce actually has a small equity stake in this startup, but the review deemed them fit to win anyway because "such investment is immaterial and salesforce.com has no ability to control the referenced company."

The bottom line, at least for Salesforce, is that this rule ensures that Healthcare.love is "not a salesforce.com-related" entity under the rules.

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