Here are my notes from Yahoo! Open Hack Day NYC. For other perspectives read New York Times open sourcerer Nick Thuesen or the Yahoo! devel blog. You can watch videos of some of the talks or browse pictures.
First off, I cheated. I went to sleep in a hotel room rather than hack all through the night. (Even in college I woke up at 4am rather than pull an all nighter.) Still, I made decent progress on some pet projects including combinatorial betting. Daniel, Sharad, and Winter from Yahoo! Research New York participated for real, working through the night. Returning in the morning showered and caffeinated to greet the sleepwalkers was a little surreal. A number of ex-Yahoos joined the festivities including David Yang, Mor Naaman, and Chad Dickerson. (Havi joked that Yahoo! is like finishing school for entrepreneurs. If you count Yahoo! capture and releases like Mark Cuban and Paul Graham, the spreading influence is enormous.)
Clay Shirky kicked off the event. He’s a fantastic speaker — watch his talk here. His punch line — that successful communities like facebook, twitter, flickr, and wikipedia start small and cohesive (as opposed to large and fragmented: see Yahoo! 360) — was aimed perfectly at the many founders and foundreamers in the audience. There were speakers from Mint and foursquare and tutorials on the Yahoo! Application Platform, Yahoo! Query Language (the most popular service), Yahoo! TV widgets, and more. There was a round of Ignite NYC, a barrage of twenty-slides-in-five-minutes talks, some educational (geek’s guide to patents), some charitable (aid to South America), some hilarious (spaceman from outerspace), some thought provoking (makerbot 3d printers), and many all of the above (meta mechanical turk; the Emoji translation of Moby Dick). Watch the Ignite talks here.
A bunch of small touches made the event memorable, including a steampunk-themed hacking hall complete with retroRed Victorian couches, portraits of hackers through history, funky tweet-streaming sculptures, chalk drawings of old patents, power cords dangling from hanging bird cages, and a guitarhero–foosball corner. The food was tasty and at times eccentric, like the hot dog stand and toppings bar under a rainbow umbrella, ice cream cart, and old-fashioned popcorn machine. There was plenty of beer, coffee, red bull, sliders, and cookies, and even (gasp) vegan fare, salmon, and salad.
I give the event an A for style (decor, food) and content (talks, hacks, organization). The one sour note was the wireless — certainly a key ingredient for a good hack day — which began flaky and ended slow but acceptable.
I attended the YAP tutorial and created a rudimentary application. I was pleasantly surprised how simple the process was — the documentation and sample code are great. You can get the hello world app (complete with social hooks) running and add some ajax magic within minutes.
By far one of the coolest sights was the MakerBot Industries 3D printer in action. It sucks in plastic wire, melts it, and deposits it in perfect formation to produce coins, busts, parts for itself, or almost anything in the thingiverse. For Hack Day, the device printed news headlines in peanut butter on toast. We met an nyc resistor who was working on a conveyer belt mechanism for his own MakerBot printer, and he invited us to craft night at their shared hackspace in Brooklyn (a place that would be heaven for my dad and brother; Sharad, Jake, Daniel, and Bethany went to check it out).
I missed the tutorial on Yahoo! TV widgets but I’d like to learn more. They are now in most major TV brands including Sony, Samsung, and LG — millions of sets around the world in the coming months. (The Sony won editor’s choice in the Sept 2009 issue of Wired magazine; the Samsung and LG rated close behind. The sole TV reviewed without Yahoo! Widgets, a Panasonic, was ridiculed for is clunky Viera Cast online interface.) If you’re an internet video startup, like my friend, you need a widget channel. Personally, I’d love to see a sports game tracker that highlights pivotal moments by monitoring in-game betting odds.
Footnote: Two Yahoos made a humorous video (that’s both self-promotional and -deprecating) on what people in Times Square think ‘hacker’ means: