The Evolving Face of the Hackathon

Kin Lane
Aug. 08 2011, 08:20AM EDT

Hackathons have been a staple in Silicon Valley tech culture for quite some time, but recently we have seen seeing hackathons evolve outside of the valley -- from Los Angeles to Prague.

The format of the Hackathon is pretty straightforward: You bring together a group of developers in a room, give them a topic to code around, then they break into teams and begin hacking for usually from 24-72 hours. On the final day, theypresent what they’ve built. Winners usually go home with cash, prizes, and of course notoriety.

As the hackathon has moved outside of Silicon Valley, it has also evolved beyond just the startup or tech scene. Hackathons have become more specialized and are being used in a growing variety of industry sectors. For example:

  • Photos - Photo Hack Day is the a hackathon to bring together photographers, editors, designers, and technologists
  • Water - The Water Hackathon is challenging water experts and software developers from around the world to work on solutions to water crises
  • Sustainability - Cleanweb Hackathon is an upcoming gathering to demonstrate the impact of applying information technology to resource constraints and build applications and develop new sustainable business models leveraging mobile and social technologies
  • Health - Health 2.0′s live Code-a-thons occur over the course of one day, bringing together developers, designers and raw data sets to build health care tools
  • Government - The Open Gov Hackathon is a 8-hour hackathon to see who can build the best open government application in just one day
  • Education - Last week we reported on the winners of the recent DonorsChoose.org Hacking Education contest in which developers were challenged to create apps and data visualizations using the DonorsChoose API and datasets. As part of the contest, DonorsChoose also held a one day hackathon.

Each business sector evolves the hackathon format to suit its needs. There are a number of constraints as the hackathon spreads. For example, some industries are reluctant to use the word "hack" due to the term's negative connotations.

Nonetheless it's obvious the hackathon format is gaining momentum when it comes to identifying talent, sharing ideas, crunching big data, building apps and networking beyond Silicon Valley and the startup community.

Kin Lane I am a programmer and entrepreneur, with a focus on the business of APIs. I study how APIs are changing the business landscape, and the rise of API driven developer ecosystems. I share my insights by blogging on API Evangelist and ProgrammableWeb, and put into action as API evangelist for CityGrid.

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[...] As the event announcement says,  &#8221;API Hack Day brings developers together for an all-day coding fest focused on building apps and mashups with APIs. Developers of all experience levels can share ideas, collaborate on existing projects, start new ventures, and find out about great tools and new APIs to play with&#8221;. The events all follow a similar format, which I think Kin Lane does a great job of describing here. [...]