Loads of new stuff from Yahoo! Developer Network for Open Hack Day

Lest you think our Yahoo! Open Hack Day was all about Beck (yes, it was really cool to have him), we also released an incredible stream of stuff for the hackers to play with while they were hanging out with us at Yahoo! There is nothing like a big event with a hacker rock star to mobilize the teams at Yahoo! to tackle the last 10% to get those releases pushed out! Here’s the list. This has been covered in many places already (I was happily buried with Open Hack Day stuff instead of blogging):

  • Browser-based authentication, or BBAuth: This is big. As Dave says, “If it’s easy to program, and delivers on what it says it does, this is a huge deal.” Agree or disagree with Dave, you have to listen. (see the YDN blog post and Dan Theurer’s post as well. It was Dan’s focus and tenacity that got this thing out. Thanks Dan!)
  • Yahoo! Photos API: combined with BBAuth, you can now write applications that have read/write access to users’ photos when they grant your application permission to work with their images. More on the YDN blog.
  • Upcoming PHP5 wrapper: Check out their post for all the details, but they delivered a PHP5 wrapper for their API and a couple of new method calls. Rock on (they’re hiring, too — Guitar Hero excellence preferred, but not required. Check out this photo of Beck with the giant Guitar Hero screen the Upcoming guys set up for Open Hack Day in the background).
  • Flickr support for JSON and Serialized PHP: Read all the details in Cal’s post to the yws-flickr group.
  • .NET Developer Center: A shout out to you Microsoft fans out there. Check it out.
  • Yahoo! Mail API: We gave everyone who came to Open Hack Day a crack at this API. Stay tuned for general release in a few months. This one is really exciting. Check out the News.com story for where things are headed.

The Yahoo! Developer Network team and our partners in the product teams around Yahoo! rocked harder than Beck did on Friday night to get this stuff out and put on our Open Hack Day, so the credit extends to hundreds of people inside Yahoo! for getting it done and to all the incredible hackers who jumped right in, built stuff (often side-by-side with the developers who built the APIs they were using), and gave us immediate feedback.

I’m totally sleep-deprived right now, so I’ll save any extended commentary for later — but the past few days have been among the most memorable and exciting in my life. It’s been that good.

Yahoo! Hack Day: opening up Yahoo! itself

Ever since I organized the first Hack Day at Yahoo, people have been saying, “wouldn’t it be cool if you opened it up?” Guess what? That’s exactly what we’re doing — opening Yahoo! itself up, and in a big way. I’ve been to and helped organize internal Yahoo! Hack Days on three continents now and I’ve witnessed the incredible fun and creative energy firsthand, so opening up Hack Day was one of the first things I wanted to do when I started running the Yahoo! Developer Network.

Check out all the details on hackday.org, just launched yesterday. The fun begins on Friday, September 29 with an all-day developer workshop where we’ll be teaching you how to do real stuff with some of the tools from the Yahoo! Developer Network. That evening, we’ll kick off the Hack Day itself (the coding part) with some music that will go into the wee hours (if you need quiet areas to hack, we’ll have that for you). Don’t worry about how you’re going to get home, because you’ll be able to pitch a tent at Yahoo! (see our campus in the photo) to get a bit of rest before the fun continues on Saturday, where we’ll have demos on Saturday afternoon/evening, followed by even more high-quality entertainment (stay tuned). Mike Arrington from TechCrunch will be our MC (thanks, Mike). It’s going to rock — we guarantee it.

All this is being organized with the help and advice of Yahoo! hackers themselves — everyone is pitching in to put this thing on. If you don’t work at Yahoo! and want to be help out, let me know (just put “chadd” and “yahoo-inc.com” together and drop me a line).

We will have limited space, so let us know if you’re interested in attending by filling out the form at hackday.org.

Major thanks to two folks on the Yahoo! Developer Network team: Kent Brewster for the design and Vernon Marshall for the backend stuff. Also, a big thanks to everyone at all levels Yahoo! who not only approved all of our strange requests, they did it enthusiastically.

More on this Yahoo! Hack Day:

More on past Yahoo! Hack Days can be found in my del.icio.us bookmarks, tagged “hackday+yahoo.”

(Photo of Yahoo! campus by Premshree Pillai, one of the best hackers at Yahoo!)

Tags: hackday, yahoo

Yahoo! Hack Day: wow again

Our Hack Day on Friday once again left me in awe of the hackers at Yahoo! In sheer quantity of hacks, we exceeded all prior Hack Days, and the quality seemed to be higher than ever. Our panel of judges included some of the top executives in the company and even one of our co-founders (David Filo). Mike Arrington at TechCrunch was there and has a great summary. I’m really pleased that we were able to arrange for Mike to join us — it was gratifying to get his outside perspective on what we’ve been doing.

Yahoo! Hack DayI had a few final thoughts based on various comments I’ve been reading around the web, hearing from co-workers, etc. Before I get to those, I want to make very clear that this is a “we” thing. I’ve been organizing the Hack Days since our first one in December, but it’s always been a broad effort across all levels at Yahoo! I’ve had different people jump in to help make it happen each time, whether it’s a product manager going to pick up trophies or a PR person coordinating food delivery. For each Hack Day, I’ve had enthusiastic support from the top levels of the company. Of course, the hacker turnout and effort is what really makes it all successful, so the biggest kudos go to them.

First, at least based on what I’m aware of, I think what we’ve been doing structurally with Hack Day is unique among large companies like Yahoo! We did our first large-scale Hack Day back in December with hundreds of participants and it’s only grown from there. While we were certainly inspired by startups (which I pointed out in my prior post), pulling off a Hack Day for hundreds and thousands of engineers across several offices and sometimes even different countries in a 10-year-old company is a different sort of organizational hack. Even Microsoft with its 60,000+ employees put together a Hack Day with only 75 participants and in a very specific business unit, which suggests to me that size doesn’t make it any easier. The fact that we have been able to pull off such a large-scale event across Yahoo! is a not only an indication of the enormous energy of our developers, it’s a testament to the strength, vision, and support of our upper management (one of my favorite photos from the day is the look of pure joy on our CFO Sue Decker’s face in this photo I took from the podium). Of course, I’d like to know if I’m missing some examples out there of large-scale Hack Days or similar events — anyone know of any? (Just to get it out of the way, I think this is a different approach than the Google 20% initiative, a program that has its its own imperfections.)

Yahoo! Hack DaySecond, I think the overall looseness of our Hack Day is unique and very intentional, but ultimately difficult to pull off the larger a company is, which makes what we’re doing at Yahoo! all the more remarkable. Companies of all types are naturally very goal-oriented and there is always the temptation to create constraints on activity to nudge that activity in a very specific direction to meet some sort of short-term need or goal. There’s no denying that Hack Day has immediate positive business implications for Yahoo! but the constraints are few and are only put in place to prevent completely unproductive anarchy. If you think this is easy, it’s not. There’s always the temptation to form committees, add more rules, and create a more heavyweight process. We’ve avoided that so far (again, a testament to both our engineers and upper management).

Another positive outcome of Hack Day is the spontaneous emergence of people from within the organization. There are lots of stars at Yahoo! but the company is large enough that you might not meet some of them. Also, some hackers are shy and hesitant to show some of the personal stuff they’ve been working on, but the shyness seems to melt away on Hack Day. Since hierarchy is completely meaningless on Hack Day, it’s all about how cool your hack is, not the org chart. On this Hack Day, I met Dave Glass, a self-described “6 foot, bald, tattooed biker that just happens to be an extreme geek.” Dave won an award for his hack and blogged about it. Dave has only been at Yahoo! for a few weeks and just moved to California. How many people get to stand up in front of hundreds of co-workers in their first few weeks — not just other hackers but top company execs — and show their stuff? That’s magic. (We also had a few interns show their hacks as well — see this comment from intern Richard Crowley on TechCrunch).

The large-scale Hack Day model isn’t perfect by any means and needs to be tweaked in a million different ways, but it’s a functioning organism of its own at this point. Out of all the things that I’ve been involved in during my career, I have to say that I’m proudest of my contributions in getting Hack Day off the ground.

Commentary around the web: Jeremy Zawodny, Dav Glass, Michelle Hedstrom, Gordon Luk

P.S. a note on the awards

Here’s the complete list (and as Mike Arrington noted on TechCrunch, the awards were not the primary incentive):

Best Overall: Swati Raju, Dan Rose, and Peter Anick

Best User Experience: Deepa Joshi, Paul Yiu, Cecil Balzen

Most Money: Aaron Stein, Joshua Rangsikitpho, Sumit Chachra, Steve Spencer, Cody Simms, Dave Zito, Yu Shan Chuang

The “Why Did You Wait for Hack Day?” award: (a tie)
#1: Shankar Venkataraman, Subodh Shakya
#2: Gordon Luk, Mirek Grymuza, Vince Maniago

Best Use of APIs: Dave Glass

Most Unexpected: Rahul Nair

People’s Choice: Mega Hack Team (Leonard Lin, Gordon Luk, Edward Ho, Kevin Cheng, Daniel Raffel, Cameron Marlow, Jonathan Trevor)

Brief report on BarCamp Bangalore

Last Friday and Saturday were a complete whirlwind, but absolutely exhilirating. After traveling for just over 30 hours and arriving in Bangalore at 3pm local time (2:30am back in California), I went to my hotel to get some rest before reporting to Yahoo! Bangalore for our first international Hack Day the next morning. Then, after a fun night out with Yahoo! Bangalore hackers, it was up relatively early the next morning and back to the other Yahoo! office in Bangalore (yes, there are two) for BarCamp Bangalore.

php shirtAnd this is where the story ends. . . for now. As Tara mentions at the end of her excellent post about BarCamp Bangalore, I’m trying to write something a little more substantial and lengthy about the Bangalore experience, and if I’m lucky, it will put everything into a larger context that will be useful to someone besides me — but it’s going to take longer than a blog post and involve some research, fact-checking, follow-up interviews, and some wordsmithing.

As I was thinking about the form to drive what I wanted to write, I decided that a blog post just didn’t feel right, then Chris took care of helping me out in my thinking without really knowing it (I’m quoting out of context here, so you should read the rest):

. . . blogs are a great mechanism for communities to talk amongst themselves or for independent voices to gain an audience, but they are not entirely a substitute for a unified perspective that can connect the pieces and reassemble a complete story. The role journalists traditionally played was to tell stories that interwove diverse and contradicting views in the interest of keeping the public informed.

For all of the blogging greatness that surrounds us, sometimes the form simply falls short. While I’m digesting the Bangalore experience for the longer piece, I did want to point out the excellent stream of photos shot by Alex Muse with the faces and names of BarCamp Bangalore attendees. Most of the time, the talk in the media about countries and economies and outsourcing and GDP de-personalizes everyone involved. Scrolling through the faces of BarCamp Bangalore, I see passion, creativity, and the kind of geeky excitement that gets me up every morning. I see partners in making the world a better place through technology. I’m glad Alex took those photos.

(Note: the photo is of Kaustubh Srikanth with his mega-geeky-cool PHP shirt. Kaustubh is a new friend from Bangalore who — along with his girlfriend Tripti and fellow hacker Shreyas Srinivasan — showed Tara, Chris, and me around Bangalore last Sunday. Thanks, guys. You made me feel very welcome in Bangalore and I hope to return the favor soon.)

Yahoo! Bangalore Hack Day: a report

To put it mildly, the Yahoo! Bangalore Hack Day completely rocked. There were so many hacks at the end of the day that we had to run demos in two separate rooms simultaneously. I had an amazing time and was incredibly impressed with the energy and creativity of everyone I met. Some of the most talented hackers I have ever met are at Yahoo! Bangalore. (The free buffet Indian lunch was awesome, too.)

Here are some links to first-person accounts from Bangalore hackers:

The essence of hacking. . . and some Flickr photos by tag: bangalorehackday (with some post-Hack Day pub action)

I’m impressed that the Bangalore team one-upped us back at Yahoo! U.S. — they started their Hack Day promptly at midnight, with thirty-five hackers hunkering down for the long haul. Even more impressive, the core of that late-night group managed to take me out for dinner and beers the night after Hack Day. Their energy after having been up working for days was remarkable in comparison to my mild lethargy from a little jetlag (I arrived the day before Hack Day after 30 hours in transit and 10,000 miles in the air). Consider me impressed with their party skills as well, especially in a city that closes up pretty early.

Before closing this post, I wanted to thank those hackers explicitly. Sumeet, aka the famed “Teemus”, glad you finally got some sleep and it was good seeing you the next day at BarCamp Bangalore. Premshree, thanks for delaying your flight to hang out, and I’m glad you made it to Bombay. Gopal V, thanks for hanging out with us even though you hadn’t slept in days. Pankaj, thanks for keeping me laughing all the night. Hitesh, thanks for coming out after a long day of hacking. Finally, Kapil, glad you enjoyed the chicken. 😉

You guys are truly awesome hackers.

Going to Bangalore and London

Next Tuesday, I’m headed to Bangalore to visit the Yahoo! office there for their Hack Day (we had one last December and one in March at the main Yahoo! offices in California). Even better, Yahoo! Bangalore’s Hack Day on Friday is followed by Bangalore BarCamp on Saturday. I signed up to talk about what we’re doing with Hack Day at Yahoo! but I’m more interested in hearing about what the hackers in Bangalore are doing.

I’ve never been to India, so I’m really excited about the trip, even though it will be short (four days). On the way back, I’m stopping in London for three days to visit some of my Yahoo! colleagues. The schedule is looking really busy, but if anyone out there in Bangalore or London wants to get together, send me an email (you can find it on my main blog page).

Reading 2.0 and microformats

Yesterday, I participated in the Reading 2.0 summit (organized by Peter Brantley of the California Digital Library), a small gathering in San Francisco about the future of digitized material, with the digitization of books being a primary topic. Tim O’Reilly did an amazing job of taking notes.

As Tim notes, I gave a short presentation about microformats at Yahoo! (borrowing heavily from Tantek Çelik and microformats.org, who I credited in an intro slide before I even got into the topic). Since my slot was a brisk ten minutes, I decided to briefly talk about what microformats are, but then go straight to the markup. This approach seemed to work a few years ago when I found myself explaining RSS a lot. I always found that pulling up an RSS feed and showing the the simplicity of the feed itself got the point across that RSS was not particularly complex. I think microformats are similar in that regard.

An interesting question came from Cliff Lynch, who asked if it might be possible to use microformats to mark up genomic information. I have to admit that I don’t know much at all about genomic information, but to the extent that this type of information is on the web, decentralized, and can be structured consistently (preferably modeled after an existing standard, as hCard is modeled after vcard), I don’t see why not. That’s the beauty of efforts like microformats — anyone with the ability to publish to the web now (which is everyone) can participate in creating a microformats standard by putting it into practice and sufficiently documenting it. hGenome, anyone?

For more on microformats, you can see a presentation that Tantek gave on a recent visit to Yahoo, and microformats.org. There is also a microformats-discuss mailing list.

An easy way to get started with microformats is to use the hCard creator to build your own hCard (see my hCard).

Again, be sure to read Tim’s notes. Really cool stuff.

See you in Austin for SXSW

Whew — it’s been a crazy week. I was at eTech earlier this week (a little hectic with the Checkmates prototype rolling out) and didn’t get to hang out and chat with people quite as much as I wanted. Then, in an unfortunate calendaring incident, I had rebooked a few days in Tahoe after postponing a planned trip in December to run the first Hack Day at Yahoo. Those days happened to be sandwiched right between eTech and SXSW, so I flew straight from San Diego to Reno/Tahoe on Wednesday, and now I’m sitting in the Reno/Tahoe airport waiting for my plane to Austin for SXSW.

I’m really excited about going to SXSW. I have been all over Texas, but never Austin. Over the past few years, I’ve watched from afar as it seems like lots of people are down there having fun this time of year.

Anyway, if you saw me at eTech and I looked a little rushed and preoccupied, well, I was — so be sure to say hello in Austin!

Checkmates: a mobile friend finder prototype for eTech

I’ve been working on a project recently that is really the convergence of everything I love about my work these days: promoting grassroots innovation at Yahoo! through events like Hack Day, building cool stuff, and trying to glimpse the future through prototypes that reach a little bit. (Aside: I just noticed that in Jeremy’s original post about Hack Day, he called it the first “annual.” We’re doing them quarterly, and in fact, we’re doing another one a few weeks from now. Can’t wait.) What I’m writing about today is actually the result of Ed Ho, Jonathan Trevor, Karon Weber, and Sam Tripodi’s “failed” Hack Day project. At the end of our first Hack Day, Ed, Jonathan, Karon, and Sam had nothing to show but ambition, but the experience lit a fire that resulted in something really cool that we can now share.

I’m referring to CheckMates , a prototype for telling your friends where you are and seeing where they are on a map (i.e. check your mates) — on your phone. It wasn’t even close to working at the end of our last Hack Day, but it is now. You can download it now — just click on the Install link on this page and follow the instructions. One note: since this is a limited-release prototype, we’re capping registrations, so the downloads will pause at some point. There are a couple other disclaimers.) This prototype was built all on public Yahoo! APIs, so we’re also hoping that it will inspire you to build your own stuff! Theoretically, Checkmates should work on any Java/MIDP2 capable phone but it’s known to work on Nokia Series 60 phones like the 6620, 6670, 6680, 6681, 6682, 7610 models, and it is likely to work on 3230, 6630, 6260 as well.

Mapping on a phone certainly isn’t anything new, but when you overlay a social network on top of the mobile mapping experience (in this case, your Flickr “friends and family”), it gets really interesting. When using the Checkmates prototype, you’re able to see your friends’ locations, what their status is, and when they last broadcasted their location (assuming they are also using the app).

Aside from pulling your social network into the mobile mapping experience, Checkmates takes things a bit farther — it takes you inside the building and lets you track your friends when you get there. Think of it as an additional zoom level, jumping beyond street level into a building or other space.

For this prototype, we put a map of the eTech floor into the app, but the mechanism we used (the Flickr API) to do that means that the possiblity exists to spontaneously map a world of semi-public and private spaces that have been unexplored up to this point. Imagine going to an amusement park, taking a photo of the map at the front of the park, then using that map immediately within an intuitive and easy-to-use mobile mapping application to track your friends and family while you’re there. Not to mention that you could share this map with other people who might need it after you. Cool, huh?

This prototype is so fresh that the URL for it is ugly (sorry about that — here’s a tinyurl instead: http://tinyurl.com/pya4x), but we wanted to get it into your hands to play with it despite a few rough edges here and there.

There’s a lot going on within Checkmates, so check out the page that explains how to use it and the FAQ.

If you want to let the team know what you think, email us at techdev-feedback (at) yahoo-inc.com. Remember, this is just a prototype and as such, has no support — but we still want to hear how you’re using and how you would make it better. We hope you have fun with it!

Update: Ed writes more about the inspiration for this, and Jonathan adds his thoughts.

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