Yahoo's spirit of openness in 'hackathon'

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hackers armed with laptop computers, camping tents and dreams of software glory invaded
Yahoo during the weekend as the Internet pioneer opened its strategy and its doors to outside developers.The "hackathon" was as much a symbol of Yahoo rising from the ashes of a burned-out courtship with U.S. technology colossus Microsoft as it was a chance for software wizards to work their magic on Yahoo's platform.

The approximately 300 hackers that swept onto the firm's campus in Sunnyvale, California, had the first chance to tinker with the inner workings of Yahoo online offerings such as its globally popular free email.

Yahoo earlier in the week outlined a shift to an "Open Strategy" that it believes will jazz-up the Web site and lead to meshing offerings from hot online properties such as Amazon and iTunes with its Web pages.

"Open is a really important strategy for us," Yahoo Developer Network head Chris Yeh told AFP as hackers fueled up on pizza, keg beer and caffeine-based energy drinks for all-night software writing sessions.

"It is a new course for the ship. Our ability to turn Yahoo from a company that owns and operates its own sites to a company that lets other people in on the action is a critical growth moment. This is really exciting."

Breaking down walls between Web sites where people store digitized photos, videos, messages, and musings is a trend that's overdue, according to Internet users and developers.

"It's something that really needs to happen," Developer Ryan Moore said as he worked on a hack in a purple-and-yellow armchair overlooking sand volleyball courts. "It's the way everything ought to work."

Yahoo announced plans to revamp its homepage in coming months to allow people to customize home page
s with mini-applications, including those crafted by third-party developers and vetted by Yahoo."Jerry (Yang) and I are dedicated to keeping that spirit of openness and innovation alive, but we know that we can't come up with all the great ideas ourselves," Yahoo co-founder David Filo wrote in a 'Hack Day' message.

'Hackers, bring it on.'

Hackers working alone or in teams set up camps in booths or tables in URL's Cafe in the heart of Yahoo's campus while others retreated to classrooms or stuffed chairs on the second floor of the two-story building. "This is the Yahoo that you know; that you've always dealt with," said Moore, who attended the company's first and only other U.S. hack day in 2006.

"It's the old Yahoo: 'We have eyeballs; we have data -- have at it.'"

Some broke from coding intermittently through the night to nap in tents pitched in a grassy courtyard or play classic arcade videogames including Pac-Man and Galaga.

Musically inclined hackers tested their skills on faux instruments playing pretend rock stars in the Rock Band video game.

Nearly 50 "hacks" were completed by the time the event wrapped after dark on Saturday.

Software creations included a "Ganzbot" robot that reads people news, weather, Twitter messages or other information streamed to their home pages by automated delivery mechanisms known as "feeds."

An hack served up music videos in online radio style, scouring the Internet and fetching performances that promise to fit people's tastes.

"The people here from Yahoo are psyched, excited," Yeh said. "It's a great event. It is one of the things we can rally about as a company."

Yahoo claims more than 500 million users worldwide but has been struggling to cash-in on its popularity.

Yahoo's sagging fortunes and Google's ascension as Internet advertising king prompted Microsoft on January 31 to offer to buy Yahoo for US$44.6 billion in a half-cash, half-stock deal.

Microsoft was eager to combine online resources with Yahoo in order to better battle Google.

Microsoft walked away from negotiations May 3 after Yahoo rejected an offer it raised from US$31 to US$33 per share, which amounted to US$47.5 billion.

Yahoo subsequently made a deal with Google to put its online advertising expertise to work on Yahoo websites. That deal is to take effect later this year if it passes muster with U.S. anti-trust regulators.

"It's been a remarkable year so far and it is going to continue to be a remarkable year," Yeh said. "I like interesting times. I think when things are in flux good things happen."

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