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App created by Saha ’15 gets attention of Humans of New York photoblog

An application created by Shubhro Saha ’15 was featured on the popular Humans of New York blog in January. PHONY is an online application designed to generate fake posts in the style of the Humans of New York, a Facebook photoblog featuring street portraits and interviews collected in New York City. The posts feature quotes from their subjects and sometimes brief Q&As.

Examples of posts generated by PHONY are:

“What’s your favorite thing about your son?” “
That’s a pretty name.” “What happened?” “It’s a good poem if I’m a different person when I’m finished reading it.” “It’s not a good story.”

Saha, an operations research and financial engineering concentrator, explained that he woke up one morning with the idea to create the generator and wrote the code for the program by himself in about 45 minutes.

“After I made it, I shared the application on Facebook with my friends, and in the weeks after, my friends urged me to send it to Humans of New York just to see what would happen, and so I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” he said.

James Feng ’14, a friend of Saha’s, explained that he originally saw Saha’s post on Facebook and decided to try it out. Feng explained that he thought the application was a lot of fun and that a lot of Saha’s friends really enjoyed it too.

Saha then sent an email to Brandon Stanton, the founder of Humans of New York, and Stanton posted a link to the application onto the HONY Facebook page and website.

“Brandon was actually a great sport,” Saha said. “I sent it to him the night before he posted it on the page, and he replied a couple of hours later. He had some ideas for it, and the next day, he posted it on the page.”

Stanton did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

“I was actually with [Saha] in the library when it got posted on HONY,” Feng added. “He was really pumped up, and he was checking out all the comments and watching everything play out on the page.”

While some people criticized the application, saying it detracted from and poked fun at the “human” aspect of Humans of New York, Feng noted that Saha still gained a lot of popularity and many people started following him on Facebook.

Saha has developed and written other projects, including Spamchat, an application that allows users to send a series of pictures to their Snapchat friends at once, thus “spamming” them, and Sentinel, an application that automatically enrolls users in classes on SCORE when a slot becomes available. However, Saha said he is most proud of an article he posted on his website entitled “Clarifications and advice for first-time programmers.”

“I get really excited when people learn how to code, and I get excited when they build their first app and share their first app. My goal was to share my guidance, not necessarily with big things, but some tidbits that I wish I had been told when I first started programming — things they wouldn’t normally teach you in COS classes,” he explained.

Saha added that because of the success of the article, he would be teaching a class with the Entrepreneurship Club called “Introduction to Hacking,” which would teach students things they do not learn in COS 126: General Computer Science, COS 226: Algorithms & Data Structures or COS 333: Advanced Programming Techniques, but would really help in hack-a-thons or in software engineering.

“I invite anyone who has taken 126 and wants to go forward with programming to take the class,” he said.

Saha added that he wasn’t expecting the PHONY application to amount to anything in the future, but he felt like it had accomplished its purpose.

“People came and checked it out and had a good laugh about it, and at the end of the day, if I put a smile on someone’s face, then it’s definitely worth it,” he said.

PHONY was launched not long after the release of What Would I Say?, another application developed by seven Princeton graduate students for the HackPrinceton competition in November. Saha noted that the success of What Would I Say? helped inspire him to create PHONY.

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