Yesterday was the beginning of Yahoo!’s first open hack day. There are so many good things about this, that it’s hard to describe. The essence of the invitation is that we’ll invite hackers to our campus for 24 hours, feed them, show them a good time, and teach them about the services we offer to programmers, in exchange for them working on a project that involves at least one of those services. I do believe that many of the higher-level folks at Yahoo see it as sort of an experiment, to see what good comes out of the process of inviting hackers from all over the world to come and play with Yahoo API’s.
This could be the first time a lot of folks take the time to play with a lot of our API’s, which basically means that the stuff that we do better than our competitors may have a chance to shine in the spotlight, in front of the audience that matters most. Much of the mindshare that Google has captured through applications like the GMaps API, etc. has been held because of the nature of convenience. Once a coder builds an application on top of a specific interface, switching to another API requires some real motivation. So, open hack day could result in much more experience using Y! API’s for the hackers that build stuff, and that is something that has long-lasting effects for web-as-platform.
Beyond that, it also shows that Y! is an active patron and benefactor of hack culture. Open Hack Day couldn’t exist if it weren’t for the unprecedented coordination and hard work between all the groups within Yahoo (all corporate folks, people!) that made it happen. Hack culture often begins with a single idea being so strong that a small group of people can build up a tidal wave of support and interest in a short amount of time.
Oh, and did I mention that Yahoo! had Beck over as a secret musical guest? It was an unbelievably good concert, and it made me really happy to see this blog post from one of the puppeteers. Apparently he got a little confused over the purpose of the hack day, but I was stoked to see that he thought it was one of their best shows ever.
A few things that I found myself thinking: for one, I can’t really see any other company than Yahoo! ever doing something like this. Sure, I hear about firms like Genentech putting on holiday parties with huge summer festival lineups, but that’s all for its employees. The openness required for a company to release huge amounts of data and functionality via its API’s is rarely mirrorred in a corporate culture that also invites non-employees over to hang out, code, and dream for a weekend with them.
It can sometimes be tough to work in a corporate environment. But it’s things like Open Hack Day that make me glad that environment is at Yahoo.