Finding your courage

At Hello Etsy in Berlin a few weeks ago, I gave a talk titled “Finding Your Courage.” It was a different subject than what I’m accustomed to talking about and is probably the most personal talk I’ve given, with little glimpses into my background that I don’t talk about much. I really enjoyed giving it, and I hope those of you who watch like it, too (there’s a baby photo of me in there, as you can see in the photo below).

One of the coolest things about the process of putting the talk together was how the Etsy community helped me along the way by telling their stories in the Etsy forums. The whole process was really satisfying all-around, and I thank the community for their help.

Here’s a link to the video from Livestream (and the slides are here.)

Chad Dickerson, HELLO ETSY Berlin, September 17 & 18, 2011

SXSW and eTech

Big week ahead. I’ll be stopping by eTech for about 24 hours (late Tuesday to late Wednesday — wish I could stay longer), then it’s back to SF for meetings on Thursday, then on to Austin for SXSW (arriving Friday night and heading back early Monday). We’re throwing a little Flickr / Fire Eagle party on Sunday afternoon from 4-8pm at the Iron Cactus — here are the details. See you there!

Pumped about London Hack Day / Dopplr

It’s 2:45am on a Saturday morning and all I can think about is the upcoming London Hack Day we’re doing with the BBC next weekend. I arrive in London on Monday to begin some of the pre-event preparation. I can’t sleep thinking about it. I’m turning 35 soon and I’ve flown many miles and been many places, but I still get excited like a little kid when I travel every time. Add in the fact that each Hack Day I’ve been involved in both inside and outside Yahoo! has blown my mind in a different way and you’ve got a recipe for insomnia of the most wonderful sort.

Alexandra PalaceAnd I’m not sure even I have grasped how amazing the location is. In his post “The Ultimate Party,” Ryan explains just how special the venue is:

The event is at Ally Pally (Alexander Palace), a venue with so much tech and media history it puts whole countries to shame. In 1936 Ally Pally became the headquarters of world’s first regular public ‘high definition’ television service, operated by the BBC.

. . . then quotes from the Wikipedia entry on Alexandra Palace:

The palace continued as the BBC’s main TV transmitting centre for London until 1956, interrupted only by World War II when the transmitter found an alternative use jamming German bombers’ navigation systems (it is said that only 25% of London raids were effective because of these transmissions).

After that it continued to be used for news broadcasts until 1969, and for the Open University until the early 1980s. The antenna mast still stands, and is still used for local analogue television transmission, local commercial radio and DAB broadcasts.

Ryan continues:

How incredible is it that the people working at the forefront of the next revolution/evolution of media and broadcasting will be getting together at such a historic venue.

Anyone working in media and or technology in the UK holds Ally Pally close to their heart – I’ve spoken to BBC engineers who see it as a sort of spiritual home – a mecca of media innovation.

Wow. I can’t wait to get there!

Speaking of travel, I’m on Dopplr now. What does Dopplr do? From the About page:

It lets you share your future travel plans with a group of trusted fellow travellers whom you have chosen. It also reminds you of friends and colleagues who live in the cities you’re planning to visit.

Ping me if you want an invite.

At Mix on Tuesday / Wednesday

I’ll be at Mix in Vegas on Tuesday and Wednesday — drop me an e-mail (chadd – at – if you’d like to meet up.

Every time I go to Vegas, I’m reminded of a passage in Jean Baudrillard‘s America (one of the books I read back when I was preparing for a career as an academic, and one of the books that made me think that wasn’t such a good idea):

. . . what is absurd is also admirable. The skylines lit up at dead of night, the air-conditioning
systems cooling empty hotels in the desert and artificial light in the middle of the day all have something both demented and admirable about them.

I'm not at SXSW, but the Shiners are on me

Yeah, I’m not in Austin this year. Between a speaking commitment here in the Bay Area tomorrow and a wedding-related commitment on Saturday, the schedule just didn’t work. Sigh.

Never fear, though — there are plenty of good folks from Yahoo. Be sure to hook up with the MyBlogLog guys, or the Yahoo! Developer Network team — Kent Brewster, Jason Levitt (who moderated this panel), and Dan Theurer. If you see any of them, tell them I said the Shiner is on me. Or just show up at Yahoo! BarTab and cut out the middleman.

See you in Austin next year!

Conference season: where you'll find me

It’s that time of year, and I’ve got a busy but excellent schedule ahead. If you want to meet up at any of these places, drop me a line! (it’s “chad”, then “”).

YUI First-Year Party
Yahoo! HQ (Sunnyvale, CA)
February 22, 5:30-8:30pm

Browser Wars: Episode II The Attack of the DOMs
Yahoo! HQ (Sunnyvale, CA)
Wednesday, February 28, 6:00 PM

“Dreaming in Code,” Berkeley Cybersalon (Berkeley, CA)
From Sylvia Paull’s mailing list (subscribe here): Scott Rosenberg, a founder of, will moderate a panel discussing the challenges of writing major software programs. Scott just wrote a book called “Dreaming in Code,” which follows the tortuous path of Mitch Kapor’s OSAF (Open Source Applications Foundation) undertaking to write a PIM (personal information manager,) code-named Chandler. On the panel will be Eric Allman, email pioneer and creator of Sendmail software as well as Chief Science Officer of the eponymous company; Chad Dickerson, manager of the Yahoo Developer Network; Lisa Dusseault, Fellow at CommerceNet and a former development manager and standards architect at OSAF; and Jaron Lanier, computer scientist and virtual reality pioneer.
Sunday, March 4, 5-7 PM

Evans Data Developer Relations Conference (Redwood City, CA)
Speaking: “Hacking Developer Relations at Yahoo! Developer Network
March 12, 2:00-2:55pm

March 12-13 (maybe)

eTech (San Diego)
Speaking: “Big Company Hacks at Yahoo!
Wednesday, March 28, 11:45am – 12:15pm

See you on the road. . . . .

Knight New Media Center workshop: future of newspapers

I am absolutely thrilled to have been asked to be a discussion leader at a workshop on Monday put together by the Knight New Media Center at USC (the Knight New Media Center is a partnership of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism). The overall workshop is “Transforming News Organizations for the Digital Future,” and my particular session is “The Next Wave of Technological Change.” (apologies for the lack of links — nothing online to link to yet!)

Twenty top editors and online news leaders from ten different metro newspapers across the country will be there (Denver, Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Des Moines, Miami, Newark, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego), along with a host of experts to guide the workshop discussions. The goal of the workshop is to give the editors both innovative and practical ideas for changing the culture and the operational focus of their newsrooms to embrace change in the new media landscape.

NandoLand BBSI started my career working for newspapers, mainly because for as long as I could remember, I really wanted to work at a newspaper. I started out at the News & Observer in Raleigh, NC (where we were the first daily newspaper on the web in July 1994 and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time) and then as the first webmaster at the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, where my primary task was taking all of the information flowing to AccessAtlanta, their Prodigy-based service (think banks of QBasic-powered parsers running on DOS machines) and re-routing it to the web (yes, there were Perl scripts involved, and lots of them).

Access AtlantaI officially left the newspaper world in the summer of 1996, but I still have great affection for newspapers and their role as watchdogs. Watching All the President’s Men, the story of Woodward, Bernstein and Watergate, still gives me chills. Back at the News and Observer in Raleigh, I was fortunate to have an inside glimpse of Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalism, all driven by savvy work with databases. When I wasn’t learning how to code, one of my occasional tasks was running to state government agencies to pick up 9 track tapes with government data. Reporter Pat Stith tells the story of what they did with some of that data for the series of stories that ultimately won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Though this was eleven years ago now, I think Pat’s data-driven approach with journalism still points the way to the future for newspapers (see Adrian Holovaty’s post about structured data), only now we have RSS, Atom, and other standard data formats that didn’t exist then (along with loads of tools to parse them), we have blogs, we have significant broadband penetration into homes, and database software is a commodity (I get unlimited MySQL databases on my dreamhost account for less than $1/day). Where are the data-crunching citizen journalists, and what could newspapers do to enable them? What if all the raw structured data that newspapers gather was syndicated out to the readers? (some government agencies are already ahead of the game). I’ll have more on those trains of thought after the workshop, I’m sure.

I’m going into this workshop hoping to offer some useful advice, not to deliver the usual Silicon Valley “newspapers are screwed, prepare to be disintermediated” spiel (that’s been done before, many times.) Despite some serious challenges, I think newspapers can have a bright future if they have the courage to make some adjustments. We’re in an era where anyone can play — including newspapers.

I’ll post some thoughts from the workshop sometime next week.

(Screenshots: original News and Observer BBS, NandOLand, along with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Access Atlanta service from Prodigy, both pulled from David Carlson’s Online Timeline. Click to enlarge.)

Looking ahead at Web 2007 panel on Tuesday 1/9

I’m honored to be part of a panel at next Tuesday’s Jewish High-Tech Community meeting organized by Bill Lazar, the topic being “Looking ahead at Web 2007.” I’m looking forward to meeting Evelyn Rodriguez and Jason Hoffman, and seeing Anil Dash again. The panel is described as follows:

Each of our speakers will open with a list of important events, tools or understandings on, about or for The Web that they think will likely happen in 2007 and then discuss them with each other and the members attending.

One of the reasons I enjoy the work I do is that the future can be very unpredictable, so I’m interested in listening to what the other panelists have to say as much as participating myself. I’ve been bookmarking others’ predictions in my feed to get a sense of what other people are saying: predictions+2007. Evelyn has been bookmarking hers, too.

The event is at Fenwick & West in Mountain View and runs from 6:30 until 9 or so. (Hey Bill, how about posting these events to Upcoming?)

Predictive markets microconference at Yahoo!

My Yahoo! colleague Chris Plasser has put together a really impressive (and free) event at Yahoo! on Wednesday, December 13, the first installment of a new series called Here’s the description:

Join us for a public “how to” session on prediction markets** moderated by James Surowiecki, New Yorker columnist and best-selling author of The Wisdom of Crowds. Speakers from Google, HP, Microsoft, and Yahoo! will describe how they are using prediction markets to aid corporate forecasting and decision making. Other speakers include the developer of Zocalo, an open source prediction market platform; the co-founder of, a Paul Graham yCombinator startup; and Robin Hanson, the visionary economist and inventor whose pioneering work paved the way. The event is open to the public and will emphasize practical lessons and hands-on advice. After brief presentations from each speaker, Surowiecki will open up the session for discussion with the audience.

Check out the page for all the details.

Yahoo! Open Hack Day: how it all came together

I have to admit — since Hack Day ended, I have been struggling with how to contextualize it. It’s hard to put a nice neat wrapper around something that was so profound for me. For the people who were there (and you can read for yourself), it felt like a defining moment. The best way for now is to point out some of the people who made it happen and tell some of the inside story. In some later posts, I’ll probably go through some of the principles that guided us in planning Hack Day (e.g. who we invited and why, approaches to making such an event work), but for now, I just want to provide some backstory and point out some of the people who helped make this happen. There are literally hundreds of people in the mix, so I apologize in advance for those who I have missed. This will be my first attempt “official recounting” (as Bradley put it in his post). Like all good stories, some things will be left between the lines, of course.

Before I get into the narrative, if anyone out there is wondering how we pulled this off, I offer one clue: total pros rolling up their sleeves to do whatever needed to be done. I’ve always been surprised at how intelligent people ascribe self-limiting qualities to organizations that they don’t really have to accept. Large companies are “slow.” Small companies are “agile.” “They” would never let us do this. What happens when you work in a large company and you are able to leverage the size of the organization to form a lean-and-mean ad hoc team with broad expertise (technical, management, legal, security, networking, etc.) on a moment’s notice? Something pretty powerful — you turn the cynical “they” who won’t let you do anything into the unstoppable “we” that won’t take no for an answer. I learned that inspiration might be the world’s only renewable energy source and it scales like a motherfucker.

Hack Day and getting things done

Beck checking out the hacksIt’s really easy to lose sight of the fact that in all the excitement of having a rock star like Beck on our campus, our Hack Day efforts (internal and external) help us get lots of real things done. We launched a ton of new stuff. Don’t take it from me that Hack Day creates results, though. Ryan Kennedy writes of our last internal Hack Day (where he won a “Technically Sweet” award for a kick-ass hack that used the Yahoo! Mail API that we eventually previewed for Open Hack Day attendees): “It [the internal Hack Day on September 15] was the event that reinvigorated my efforts to get mail ready for show time.” Ryan’s post crystalizes for me the clear relationship between our internal and now external Hack Day efforts. Ryan built the Mail API, then gave it a spin at our internal Hack Day with his winning hack, then spent the next couple of weeks refining it before giving a talk about it at Open Hack Day. Then he stepped down from the podium and spent his next 24 hours working alongside our visiting developers to build hacks using the same API (for which he got some shout-outs from the stage — read Ryan’s post for more info). Four cool hacks were produced by external developers with this brand-new API (see the list of all the hacks). If this isn’t a very good thing, I don’t know what is — this is the web ecosystem in action. Hack Day works.

The birth of the concept

As Bradley said in his keynote, we decided to do this just a few weeks ago, really, though we were inspired by the experience of doing seven internal Hack Days on three continents (the photo at right is of me at the beginning of the very first one). To get started on the first public Hack Day, I set up an Upcoming page and when I had to choose the category, I chose “festival” for a reason. I didn’t think the world needed another tired developer conference in a too-expensive downtown hotel where we stood in a booth and handed out t-shirts while our attendees racked up double-digit mini-bar bills just because they wanted a Diet Coke in the morning (more on this in a later post, I hope). We didn’t need that stuff anyway — we’ve got an awesome campus with a lot of space, tons of classroom space, a fat pipe to the Internet, beautiful lush corporate green grass, a cafeteria that could house and feed an army, and thousands of multi-talented people. So we launched on August 25 and posted these words:
First Hack Day at Yahoo!

We’ve opened up Yahoo! from the inside out with our world-renowned Hack Day and from the outside in through the Yahoo! Developer Network. Now we’re opening up Yahoo! itself to a select group of hackers and other special guests for a weekend festival of hacking, camping (yes, the tents-in-the-outdoors kind – we have really, really nice grass), music, and good times.

Yahoo! Hack Day will begin on Friday with a free all-day developer workshop, then we’ll kick off a 24-hour Hack Day with an outdoor party into the wee hours, with special guests providing the soundtrack. More details later, but we guarantee it won’t be your usual corporate-wedding-band-for-hire leading the crowd through 2am group sing-a-longs of “Brick House.” Stay tuned.

Yahoo! Hack Day will continue throughout the night (in tents, in URLs, our cafeteria) and conclude on Saturday afternoon/evening with judging from a panel of luminaries and special awards for the coolest hacks. After nightfall we’ll close things out with another round of entertainment that you would be happy to pay for, except that you won’t have to.

I wrote those words, and it was both the vision and the project plan. The only thing was that we had no entertainment lined up and nothing else worked out, just an idea of the environment we wanted to create — that’s it. That was barely four weeks ago!

Punk rock

After we got the idea rolling, I sent an email out to our internal Hack discussion mailing list (something I seeded after our first internal Hack Day in December of last year) and said, “who wants to help put together a public Hack Day?” Within a few days, I had about 80 people ready to help: engineers, product managers, business development, attorneys. . . . name a function and we had someone step forward. No coercion by management, none of the browbeating you might see in a typical corporate environment, no silly corporate brainstorming exercises, no discussion of “branding,” no PowerPoints (not one!) We had one planning meeting to kick things off (it was our first and last meeting), and pretty soon, I was standing back and watching the magic. People stepped up. We needed t-shirts, and they appeared. PR pros called BBQ vendors to arrange food. Some of the world’s foremost CSS experts stuffed welcome packets. Hard core backend engineers offered themselves up as low-level tech support for the hackers doing their demos. I talked to our totally awesome facilities team about our grass and the sprinkler system (needed to make sure the ground wasn’t too squishy for the campers). At one point when we were setting up the wifi network on Thursday, the guys needed 200 zip ties and several hundred feet of ethernet cable. I sent an email out to my list of volunteers and within the hour, it all appeared (thanks, Kent). Punk rock.

This kind of thing happened over and over and over. It was magical to watch.

Thank yous

It’s an impossible task to get this right, but there are some specific people I wanted to thank. First, there’s Bradley. When I moved over to YDN, we started talking about a public Hack Day almost immediately and the idea started crystalizing. I honestly don’t remember exactly how the “crazy” Beck idea came up, but when it did, it was Bradley who gave me that patented Bradley look that said, “dude, this is TOTALLY POSSIBLE!” and quietly lit the fire under me to make it happen. I’m hoping that everyone out there has a boss like this one day. (It’s cool that Nina caught me taking a shot of Bradley with my Treo while he was doing the Filo-to-Beck intro). Some of my fondest memories of this whole process were high-fiving Bradley in various meetings as we started to get the sense of what we were planning. We just couldn’t wait to share what we were doing with the world. Thanks, Bradley, for making work so fun.

Kiersten Hollars (in the far right in this photo) totally rocks. Bradley gave some props to Kiersten in his post, but I just can’t say enough. Her official job is PR, but if you had a slice of pizza or a doughnut during Hack Day, Kiersten is the one who made it happen. That’s not to say that Kiersten was diminished to phoning in food orders because she is an absolute pro at what she does. She just wasn’t afraid to dial Domino’s when we needed it and that’s why this whole thing worked. I won’t deny that getting this done had some stressful moments, but Kiersten and I kept each other calm. Kiersten doesn’t write code, but she’s an amazing organizational hacker. Rock on, Kiersten.

Once we got the verbal commitment from Beck, Jackie Waldorph (photo) and Christy Garcia on our events team took that ball and ran with it, dealing with the production issues, the stage, the sound, security, and anything else related to the show. It was a gargantuan task that had never been done before. One of my favorite moments happened about half an hour before the show was to begin when I ran into Jackie and she said, “Now that he’s here, Beck says he wants to do a longer show.” Well, OK!

The YUI team put the whole excellent Friday agenda together along with Dan Theurer on the YDN team. In one of the key roll-up-your-sleeves moments, Eric Miraglia (photo) brought a wagon from home to help move welcome packets, schwag, and anything else around that needed moving. A wagon hack! Eric’s contributions were immeasurable, as were his entire team (led by Thomas Sha, who was enthusiastically involved from the beginning).

To the extended Open Hack Day Team, you guys totally rocked — all 80+ of you. And a gigantic thanks to the YDN team that I am so freaking proud of: Dan, Kent, Matt, Jeremy, Jason, and Vernon. It’s hard to believe that this team really just started working together.

A big thanks to Tara Kirchner, whose various acts of heroism made a lot of the key ingredients for Open Hack Day fall into place. Micah Laaker gave us the logo after we told him we were stuck and had 20 minutes before we had to send a design to the printer, or no t-shirts.

For setting up our high-performance wi-fi network from scratch for all the visiting hackers, Tim Stiles (photo) and Tom Keitel (photo) deserve HUGE props. I also have to give a big thanks to our security team (network and physical), but I can’t discuss what they did or they would have to kill me. 😉 I used to be totally immersed in the world of enterprise IT, so I know IT rock stars when I see them. These guys fit the bill.

No one deserved this photo with Beck more than Nicki Dugan. And to that certain skateboarding hacker in our midst — thanks, man.

Mike Arrington was an excellent moderator. Keeping the demos moving is more grueling than you might think, and he handled it with great humor and skill.

As Bradley mentioned in his post, this crazy idea quickly gained support at the highest levels of Yahoo! and we appreciate it. David Filo outlasted nearly everyone on Friday night, and I was inspired by all the other Yahoo! execs who hung out with the hackers. Like Bradley, I also want to give a shout out to Jeff Weiner, the man who cleared the way for our very first Hack Day and helped us grow it at every turn. And to Ash Patel for encouraging us to make it even bigger when we moved into his organization.

new Canadian friendsLast but definitely not least, I wanted to thank the hackers who came out. You guys came from far and wide with nothing but faith that you were going to have a good and productive time partying and hacking with us. I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything anyone has written about Open Hack Day and I am more inspired than ever by your feedback. It’s a real honor to have put this together for all of you and I’m looking forward to seeing you around. (Remember, all the “winners” are listed here — but everyone was a winner. Seriously.)


And then there was Beck.

One of the hardest things about putting this whole thing together came when I was on the phone with Beck’s agent and manager very early on and they asked me if Yahoo! had ever done something like this before. I swallowed any indie cred I had built up in prior conversations and said, “Well. . . . we had Sugar Ray once.” Silence. “I’m really sorry I had to say that.” They sensed my pain at bringing that up and graciously moved on to the business at hand. All I know is that it’s gonna be a hell of a lot easier next time when I can say, “we had Beck last year.”

For the record, Beck’s entire team was incredible to work with, from the puppeteers to Beck himself. Beck could have jumped in his tour bus after the show and fled the building (especially since his dressing room was our gym), but he hung out and talked with us, even making some rounds to check out the hacks after the show.

The puppeteers were so impressed with us, that we converted one of them to Yahoo! Search. Read the comments on this post:

you yahoo’s were all amazing! if only you had a need for puppeteers on staff…i’d so be there!

for the record, you all have been so great…i’ve switched over to yahoo for my homepage search engine. it’s a little thing i know…but i do what i can.

Getting Beck was not so much about getting a “big name” (though he admittedly was), but more about bringing someone in who we saw as a hacker. Some people hack music and some people hack software. Some people even hack puppets. Mixing all of that up was one of the great joys of the event (aside: a special shout out to Jonathan Grubb and the Rubyred Labs guys for their help with the video). We saw Beck and his band as participants in the whole event, not just a stage show.

Love and community

Susan does an excellent job of connecting Hack Day back to Burning Man, FOO Camp, etc, and I’ve listed some of my own inspirations in the past. The interesting thing about Hack Day to me is that the spirit behind it all lives every workday in the halls of Yahoo! The best thing about Hack Day is that when it was over, I went back to “normal life” working alongside the same people who made it happen. It’s too early to tell what this all means yet, but for us back at Yahoo! this is at least different from the “temporary community” of a Burning Man.

Ultimately, I think the reason this worked so well and people were blown away by the event is that we took the genuine love we feel for each other and our joy in working together and we reflected it out to the hacker community, and they gave it back to us. If you’re the cynical type and you’re thinking, “yeah, whatever,” then don’t take it from me. There’s Ben Metcalfe’s post and many others but my favorite was Kristopher Tate’s post about the Yahoo! “family”:

I think the best thing that describes Yahoo! is family — Yahoo is an amazing, close family that was gracious enough to open themselves up to over 450 outsiders (including myself) over the last two days from the lowest levels to the very top.

Perfect. See you again next time.