HackDay: Thoughts on how Yahoo got there and what it all means

Would Yahoo‘s Hack Day have happened without the lessons of Burning Man, BarCamp, OpenSpace and Foo Camp?
Driving over to Hack Day yesterday, I was thinking about how Yahoo got to the place where everyone was thrilled how 300+ non-staffers and a bunch of Yahoos spent the weekend camping on the lawns, coding in the classrooms, and hanging–uh, taking over–the big cafeteria –So thrilled that much of the senior senior product team for Yahoo was there as well, groovin’ along with the cool kids.
But I think there was more to it–and the (possible) reasons Hack Day came to be are worth a post:
Of course, first there was the fact (internal) Hack Day leader Chad Dickerson got a new job heading the Yahoo Developer Network and needed to do something cool to expose all Yahoo’s APIs.
Then there was the fact that internal Hack Day worked amazingly well–but then there were some other forces that might not immediately come to mind that are implicit, not explicit, and they have to do with the influence of :
Burning Man:
Burning Man has taught us all in the Valley the power of a gift economy, even if we’ve never been to the playa. Those lessons have helped drive the power of open source and open source and open APIs drive mash-ups and hacking. There is a direct (tribal) line between going to Burning Man and spending the weekend mashing with your (extended) community.
BarCamp and Foo Camp :
These events are about assembling influencers and passionate users/coders to meet up and create. Both BarCamp and Foo Camp drive home the lessons that it’s the people that matter . Both also remind us that we are more creative, more innovative–and more successful–when we don’t have to work in a vacuum, when like-minded people in similar tasks are nearby.
Yahoo Hack Day was all these things.
Another–a Bar Camp/Foo Camp lesson–is that it doesn’t have to be fancy to have power.
Forget the hotel meeting rooms, the hot lunches–pizza and tents can get it done–so long as you have reliable wifi and a secure network, as Yahoo Hack Day did.
Open Space
It’s also about how people relate from a peer to peer, bottoms up perspective where they get to shape the agenda. OpenSpace conference planning has played a strong role, IMHO, in creating that receptive environment. (What is Open Space? It is a method of groups working collaboratively based on learning how to listen to one another and plan based on what’s needed–Kaylia Hamlin– identity woman– used this method most effectively for the mashup camp sessions in July 06–but it’s a format taking hold through much of the (innovative) tech community and one that helped Hack Day self-create within the structure YDN fostered. ) Yahoo’s Hack Day was very OpenSpace in how fluidly teams assembled and hacks took place.
From the edge to the core
Another way to look at Y! Hack Day is how Yahoo Hack Day exemplifies how the edges move to the center, the core when they reach a certain critical mass.
Burning Man, Bar Camp, etc. started off as grass roots alternatives, new communities of interest, if you will–but over time they have moved to the center–and as they have shifted, they have broadened our thinking on what is core. The concept of hacking as a creative–not a destructive–act has also moved from the edge to the core–and Yahoo’s taken heed.
Susan sez: The vision of innovation and creativity in the Burning Man, Bar Camp and Hack Day is exactly what (I think) Yahoo is hungry for–so having this first open campus event is not only one way to foster creativity–it’s a way to build on –and learn from–what’s come before.
Note: The opinions in this post are my speculations, and not based on internal data or conversations with anyone on staff at Yahoo or involved this planning this event. Just in case inquiring minds wanted to know.

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  1. kaliya says:

    Hey Susan I also blog on the topic of unconferences at http://www.unconference.net

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