Jayakishore Bayadi
Monday, October 6, 2008
Over 300 software wizards swept onto the Yahoo!'s campus in Sunnyvale, California to take up the challenge of developing creative apps in 24 hours.

It's neither just an application writing competition nor a pizza-and-soda-fueled opportunity to play with potent Yahoo! APIs to win awards. For developers it’s an occasion to reach Yahoo!’s huge audience for their applications by building them on top of Yahoo!'s Web Infrastructure. "We really want to drive innovation for the industry itself," says Ari Balogh, CTO, Yahoo!.

Hence, if you are a developer with a dream to impact an insane number of people with your work, the Open Hack Day should be a perfect platform for you. "It's a cool and one of the most happening events where you can write code that will meaningfully reach millions of Yahoo! users in a single bound. That's the promise of an open Yahoo!," said David Filo, Co-founder and Chief, Yahoo! while chatting with this author over coffee. The event was open to anybody who is a developer, who can toy around with many Yahoo! platforms. Be it YOS application platform, Yahoo! Mail developer platform, social programming interfaces, and APIs (application programming interfaces), to participants (Ethical hackers) so that they can build onto Yahoo! UI libraries, which is a set of utilities and controls written in JavaScript, for building richly interactive Web applications using techniques such as DOM scripting, DHTML, and AJAX; and produce APIs like MyBlogLog, Delicious, FireEagle, SearchMonkey, BOSS, and Flickr with their great ideas. Yahoo! had organized its first Open Hack day in 2006. Since then Open Hack Days have been held all over the globe, including London and Bangalore.
The Fun Day at Yahoo!

Let's take a peep into the fun side of the latest hack day and some details about how it went on. A day before the actual D-day, all the registered folks were given tutorials to make them comfortable with Yahoo! APIs and UIs. In the evening of the first day they hung out and chatted with their fellow hackers. There was no stop in having pizzas, donuts, toffees, soft drinks, and chilling beer cans which were in abundant supply. Around 50 of them pitched tents on Yahoo! lawn. It was absolute fun day for geeks cheering and dancing to the rock music by Girl Talk, a musician who specializes in mixing up other people’s music and is known for his live shows, before they started hacking, which went on till next afternoon.
In short, it was a 24-hour hack fest complete with kegs, old school video games, and outdoor rock concert and an open, collaborative, community atmosphere for developing the next great application. Needless to say, all these truly set the tone for the fun-filled event.
The most exciting session in the event was project presentation session on the second day, where more than 50 geeks presented the exciting applications they built overnight. "It was really great. Yahoo! truly does want to foster open, collaborative, community oriented development for the Web," exclaimed Sijith, an employee of Yahoo! and Saroda Gaurav, an engineer with Nvidia, who presented their innovative apps they built previous night. There were celebrity judges like Cheryl Ainoa, VP of Yahoo! Media Engineering; Ash Patel, David Filo of Yahoo!; Rashmi Sinha, CEO of SlideShare; Jeff Clavier, investor extraordinaire; Matt Mullenweg, founder of Wordpress; and Om Malik, CEO of GigaOm.

Innovative Hacks

Just look at some of the hacks that occupied the audience. Roger Pincombe, hacker from Georgia presented his hack DialPrice, a phone interface for comparative shopping. Demograph, by Mattt Thompson of Carnegie Mellon University, which maps out congressional districts for any given location, was really cool. Michael Fischer of Stanford 'open-sourced' his FlickrFuse hack to the audience, which recognizes any, changes that the hackers in the audience submitted in the actual application.

One of the funniest hacks that kept audience hooked on to the screen was the Psychic Hotline, a voice-operated interface to the 20 Questions game put together by Ryan Luecke, Gabor Angeli, and Stewart He of Berkeley. The audience picked 'robot' as their noun, and the application guessed it right within 10-12 questions! A hacker, namely Mo Kakwan, presented the most hilarious presentation of the event with his app, Virtual Moshpit, a package that uses physics-based stick figure animations to make you relive the past events virtually.

TripIt is one of the coolest Open Mail integrations with an application that would allow you to drag over any flight or hotel confirmation email in your Inbox and automatically convert it into a detailed trip record in their system. Cell Phone Signal Tracker from Jesse Baird and Where Are My Drivers, by Wilson Sheldon and Kelvin Ling, both used FireEagle API, the former allowing you to wander around and map out your cell phone signal strength in a region and the latter letting a restaurant keep track of the location of any of their delivery guys to make it easier to reroute or redistribute goods.

It was indeed a convergence of high quality and enjoyable presentations. Winners are given nearly 25 prizes altogether, from Flash documentation wall posters to hand-held video cameras. Undoubtedly, Yahoo! has added some of the coolest apps and widgets to its kitty.

Being ‘Open’
Earlier this year Yahoo! flung its doors wide open by introducing the Yahoo! Open Strategy (or Y!OS for short) to “deliver open, industry-leading platforms that attract the most publishers and developers.”

Yahoo! hopes its Y!OS will be an answer to Google’s Internet might. But it claims that it’s basically the rewiring of Yahoo!, which perhaps would make the consumer experience more social. Well, Yahoo!’s belief is that Y!OS is their innovative approach to engage users more to enable their existing sites grow beyond their current confines.

Yahoo! has been in the ‘open’ camp for years, starting simple with RSS feeds in 2003. “Open is not only our strategy, it’s a necessity in mobility because of its complexity,” says Marco Boerries, Executive VP at Yahoo!. Flickr is the second most popular API on the Web today. Even the latest releases were like SearchMonkey, which lets people to write applications that spruce up search results with elements such as LinkedIn profiles or restaurant reviews, BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service), which lets others build their own search engines on Yahoo!’s, reordering or modifying results whichever way they want and sharing search ads or revenues if they get popular, and the newest is Fire Eagle, which can keep track of a person’s location information, including a mechanism to let users control what services may employ that information were available ‘open’ to hack during the event.
It is interesting to know how ‘Openness’ will help Yahoo! In fact, ‘Being open’ is a strategy used by many technology companies to leverage the power of the community and keep competition at bay. It’s like opening up all your property to a third party to build some creative stuff for you when you think that only you cannot build everything. “So Yahoo! is also following the same steps and is doing it for more than three years now as part of its effort to promote Web development, technology innovation, and open strategy,” opine the experts. In fact many companies like Google, Facebook, and others also organize similar kind of events every year. But, Yahoo! doesn’t agree that it is following their footsteps. Filo asserts, “We have giant competitors. With our open strategy, we’re opening up a new level of competition by letting people build on top of our infrastructure. This is good for the consumer and the Internet.”

Over the past couple of years, Yahoo! has realized that in order to keep pace with innovation, they have to embrace the fact that not all the best innovations can happen within the company’s four walls. Even Filo agrees with this. Hence, they are opening up the challenge of building the next killer applications on top of Yahoo!, which could become Yahoo!’s potential offering in its Web infrastructure. However, “In the mean time, it’s important that we also have to get the platform right so that user experience can’t be degraded,” says Ash Patel, Head, Audience Products Division, Yahoo!. Thus, the company scrutinizes the applications before letting them onto Yahoo! sites - especially for the Yahoo! Mail site, where a large amount of personal information reside.

It’s a cool and one of the most happening events where you can write code that will meaningfully reach millions of Yahoo! users in a single bound. That’s the promise of an open Yahoo!

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