Facebook rethinks its 'hackathons' with an eye toward mobile

The event's longer structure could facilitate more careful mobile product development, one engineer said

Facebook is retooling its famous "hackathon" all-night coding workshops to give engineers more time to conceive new products, hopefully with a focus on mobile.

The hackathons, a longstanding event at the company where "hacking" is central to the corporate mantra, have previously run as anything-goes, all-night workshops in which employees think up new product concepts and develop rough prototypes. If they impress, those prototypes sometimes end up as commercial products.

Some of Facebook's most popular features, including the "Like" button, Timeline and Chat, were conceived during hackathons, so they play an important role.

Thursday's event, dubbed "Project Mayhem," began at 11 a.m. and will continue until 2 p.m. Friday. When it concludes, engineers get three minutes to pitch their ideas on stage at a prototype forum.

With the more flexible structure, Facebook wants to encourage more employees to take a break from their day-to-day work and get involved in coding.

"It's like, 'let's take this day off to do this, and then if I need to get more done, we can hang out and finish at night,'" said Facebook engineering manager Pedram Keyani, who organizes the hackathons. About a couple hundred employees gathered outside on Facebook's sprawling campus in Menlo Park, California, for the event's kick-off. Some watched overhead from office windows.

Project Mayhem is also the first hackathon to offer classes to employees, on topics including PHP programming, data visualization and even juggling, Facebook said.

The longer hackathon could help facilitate the development of mobile products specifically, which often require more careful planning and development than Web-based products, Keyani said.

Recognizing the growing importance of mobile, Facebook put smartphone platforms at the heart of its development last year, but there are new considerations for mobile. While Web-based products can be pushed out gradually to select users, once an app goes live in the Apple App or Google Play Stores, it is out there for everyone, he said.

"There is a lot of focus now on mobile, without the same flexibility as the Web," Keyani said. "We're just adapting."

This year's longer hackathon could also encourage employees to use more time to build bigger prototypes that couldn't be built in a few hours, said software engineer Bob Baldwin.

"The prototype may not be an exact solution of what we want to ship, but it could at least give us something to look at, play with and see how it works," he said. "And we could see what type of reaction people have internally."

During an afternoon tour of Facebook's offices, engineers did not say much about what types of projects they were thinking about. Some, however, did describe early stage efforts to improve the coding in Facebook's back-end infrastructure to make it more efficient. Another said he was considering doing something with emoticons.

On mobile, Facebook reported during its first-quarter earnings announcement on Wednesday that its monthly active users had increased by 54 percent to 751 million. The company has just over 1 billion monthly active users total.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags mobile applicationsInternet-based applications and servicessocial networkingmobilesocial mediainternetFacebook

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Zach Miners

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?