“We can’t control the puppets” – Yahoo Hack Day 2006

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Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Success on the internet is not a zero sum game. New activity can come from any corner and audience and attention often expands to meet this demand. Much has to do with the spirit of “giving back” which is one of the principles upon which the internet is founded. Take what you need and when you can, give something back to make the online world a better place for the rest of us.

This same spirit is what drives the Hack Day efforts at Yahoo. “Mash up or Shut Up” was one of the early mottos for Hack Day. It encapsulated the idea that grumbling about a shortcoming or missing feature is a waste of bandwidth. Tackle the problem yourself and lead the way. Be resourceful, lead by example, show us how it works. Sell your idea with a prototype, not a powerpoint.

This past weekend Yahoo opened its doors to outside developers, invited them to pitch tents on the grassy commons. We showed them the knobs and levers they could use to make the world a better place. Many Yahoos cleared out their busy schedules to welcome people from all over and show them around. I was working the tables at registration and it was really great to meet people from as far away as Canada, Chicago, Florida, and New Jersey. No one really knew what to expect when the weekend started but we were all pleasantly suprised.

When Beck was first pitched to play at Yahoo (through a skateboarding connection!) the organizers were thinking it’d be cool to have him play a few tunes on acoustic guitar while sitting on a stool in our cafeteria. Not only did Beck say he’d be happy to play to a crowd of Yahoo hackers, he countered that he wanted to bring his full stage show. Another pleasant suprise.

Wonderful things happen when you let your audience participate. Yahoo understands that we are defined by the people that use our services. If we give them the tools to participate, both with Yahoo and with each other, we will all be pleasantly suprised by what they give back. The world will be a better place and audience attention will expand to support what gets created.

Hack Day was started to let Yahoo engineers in the search group scratch an itch and show off their coding chops to their colleagues. With each successive Hack Day, the group of participants grew so now anyone, regardless of location or business unit can be part of it. It only made sense to continue this inclusive trend and open it up to outsiders. Expand the pool and raise the bar. Isn’t that how evolution works? I am so proud that Chad, Bradley, and the executives at Yahoo followed through on their intuition and made this event happen. It was a risk that they didn’t have to take. The standard developer’s conference is usually more structured and shys away from marshmallow guns.

We do things a little differently at Yahoo and I think our approach will pay us back in many unexpected ways for years to come. The barriers to participation are lower than they’ve ever been, the only thing holding you back is your creativity. Come on by and help define the world you live in.

Selected Coverage:

Local news affiliate struggles to figure out what’s going on

Beck’s Puppets’ special video and a blog post from one of the puppeteers

All-woman team takes top prize – awesome!

Photoset by Scott Beale – amazing as always

Ink on paper sketches by David Newman – another interpretation

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