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Yahoo! Internal Hack Day Event at Yahoo! HQ (Sunnyvale, CA, USA), June 6, 2006

A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects.[1] Occasionally, there is a hardware component as well. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software. Hackathons tend to have a specific focus, which can include the programming language used, the operating system, an application, an API, or the subject and the demographic group of the programmers. In other cases, there is no restriction on the type of software being created.

Origin and history[edit]

The word "hackathon" is a portmanteau of the words "hack" and "marathon", where "hack" is used in the sense of exploratory programming, not its alternate meaning as a reference to computer crime. The term seems to have been created independently by both the developers of OpenBSD and the marketing team of Sun; these usages both first happened in 1999[citation needed].

OpenBSD's apparent first use of the term referred to a cryptographic development event held in Calgary on June 4, 1999, where 10 developers came together to avoid legal problems caused by export regulations of cryptographic software from the United States.

For Sun, the usage referred to an event at the JavaOne conference from June 15 to June 19, 1999; there John Gage challenged attendees to write a program in Java for the new Palm V using the infrared port to communicate with other Palm users and register it on the Internet.

Starting in the mid to late 2000s, hackathons became significantly more widespread, and began to be increasingly viewed by companies and venture capitalists as a way to quickly develop new software technologies, and to locate new areas for innovation and funding.[1] Some major companies were born from these hackathons, such as GroupMe, which began as a project at a hackathon at the TechCrunch Disrupt 2010 conference; in 2011 it was acquired by Skype for $85 million.[1] The software PhoneGap began as a project at the iPhoneDevCamp (later renamed iOSDevCamp) in 2008;[2] the company whose engineers developed PhoneGap, Nitobi, refocused itself around PhoneGap, and Nitobi was bought by Adobe in 2011 for an undisclosed amount.[3]

The term "hackathon" has also been used as a term for more general "focused innovation efforts" that includes non-coders and community members, such as in the Palo Alto civic hackathon event Hack Palo Alto.[4]


Hackathons typically start with one or more presentations about the event, as well as about the specific subject, if any. Then participants suggest ideas and form teams, based on individual interests and skills. Then the main work of the hackathon begins, which can last anywhere from several hours to several days. For hackathons that last 24 hours or longer, especially competitive ones, eating is often informal, with participants often subsisting on food like pizza and energy drinks. Sometimes sleeping is informal as well, with participants sleeping on-site with sleeping bags.[1]

At the end of hackathons, there is usually a series of demonstrations in which each group presents their results. There is sometimes a contest element as well, in which a panel of judges select the winning teams, and prizes are given. At many hackathons, the judges are made up of organizers and sponsors. At BarCamp-style hackathons, that are organized by the development community, such as iOSDevCamp, the judges are usually made up of peers and colleagues in the field. Such prizes are sometimes a substantial amount of money: a social gaming hackathon at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference offered $250,000 in funding to the winners,[1] while a controversial[5] 2013 hackathon run by Salesforce.com had a payout of $1 million to the winners, billed as the largest-ever prize yet.[6]

Types of hackathons[edit]

Science Hack Day Nairobi 2012

For an application type[edit]

Some hackathons focus on a particular platform such as mobile apps, a desktop operating system, web development or video game development.

Mobile app hackathons like Over the Air, held at Bletchley Park, England, can see a large amount of corporate sponsorship and interest.[7][8]

Music Hack Day, a hackathon for music-related software and hardware applications, is a popular event, having been held over 30 times around the world since 2009.[9] Also Music Tech Fest, a three-day interdisciplinary festival for music ideas bringing together musicians with hackers, researchers and industry, features a hackathon.[10] Similarly, Science Hack Day, a hackathon for making things with science, has been held over 45 times in over 15 countries around the world since 2010.[11]

Hackathons have been held to develop applications that run on various mobile device operating systems, such as Android,[12] iOS[13] and MeeGo.[14] Hackathons have also been held to develop video-based applications and computer games.[15] Hackathons where video games are developed are sometimes called game jams.

"TV Hackfest" events have been held in both London[16] and San Francisco,[17] focusing mainly on social television and second screen technologies. In TV Hackfests, challenge briefs are typically submitted by content producers and brands, in the form of broadcast industry metadata or video content, while sponsors supply APIs, SDKs and pre-existing open source software code.[18]

Hackathons have also been used in the life sciences to advance the informatics infrastructure that supports research. The Open Bioinformatics Foundation ran two hackathons for its member projects in 2002 and 2003, and since 2010 has held 2-day "codefests" preceding its annual conference.[19] The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center has co-organized and sponsored hackathons for evolutionary bioinformatics since 2006.[20][21] BioHackathon[22] is an annual event that started in 2008 targeted at advancing standards to enable interoperable bioinformatics tools and Web services. Neuroscientists have also used hackathons to bring developers and scientists together to address issues that range from focusing on a specific information system (e.g., Neurosynth Hackathon[23] and the Allen Brain Atlas Hackathon[24]) and providing reserved time for broad scientific inquiry (e.g., Brainhack),[25] to using specific challenges that focus hacking activity (e.g., HBM Hackathon).[26]

Using a specific programming language, API, or framework[edit]

There have been hackathons devoted to creating applications that use a specific language or framework, like JavaScript,[27] HTML5[28] and Ruby on Rails.[29]

Some hackathons focus on applications that make use of the application programming interface, or API, from a single company or data source. Open Hack, an event run publicly by Yahoo! since 2006 (originally known as "Hack Day", then "Open Hack Day"), has focused on usage of the Yahoo! API, in addition to APIs of websites owned by Yahoo!, like Flickr.[30] The company's Open Hack India event in 2012 had over 700 attendees.[31] Google has run similar events for their APIs,[32] as has the travel guide company Lonely Planet.[33]

The website Foursquare notably held a large, global hackathon in 2011, in which over 500 developers at over 30 sites around the world competed to create applications using the Foursquare API.[34] A second Foursquare hackathon, in 2013, had around 200 developers.[35]

For a cause or purpose[edit]

Developers at the 2011 Rewired State "National Hack the Government Day"

There have been a number of hackathons devoted to improving government, and specifically to the cause of open government.[36] One such event, in 2011, was hosted by the United States Congress.[37]

In 2014, the British Government and HackerNest ran DementiaHack,[38] the world's first hackathon dedicated to improving the lives of people living with dementia and their caregivers.[39][40]

The judging panel (seated, left) at DementiaHack asking questions of a team that just demoed their project (standing, right).

Various hackathons have been held to improve city transit systems.[41] There have also been a number of hackathons devoted to improving education, including Education Hack Day[42] and on a smaller scale, looking specifically at the challenges of field work based geography education, the Field Studies Council[43] hosted FSCHackday.[44] Random Hacks of Kindness is another popular hackathon, devoted to disaster management and crisis response.[45]

As a tribute or a memorial[edit]

A number of hackathons around the world have been planned in memory of computer programmer and internet activist Aaron Swartz, who died in 2013.[46][47][48][49]

For a demographic group[edit]

Some hackathons are intended only for programmers within a certain demographic group, like teenagers, college students,[1] or women.[50]

Several hackathons are organized by collegiate computer-related student groups. These are usually annual events that are open to college students at all universities. These hackathons are often competitive, with awards provided by the University or programming-related sponsors. One such event, Cal Hacks at UC Berkeley,[51] had 1,500 attendees in October 2014, making it the largest-ever hackathon of any kind.[52] Other collegiate hackathons include LA Hacks at UCLA, HackPrinceton at Princeton University, HackDuke at Duke University,[53] HackTX at the University of Texas at Austin, StudentHack at Manchester Metropolitan University, PennApps at the University of Pennsylvania, MHacks at the University of Michigan, Boilermake at Purdue University, Y-Hack at Yale University, HackMIT at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and HackIllinois at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.[54][55][56]

Internal company hackathons[edit]

Some companies, such as Cognizant, Facebook, Google, SendGrid, Microsoft and Pegasystems, hold internal hackathons to promote new product innovation by the engineering staff. For example, Facebook's Like button was conceived as part of a hackathon.

Developing a single application[edit]

In some hackathons, all work is based around improving a single application, such as an operating system, programming language, or content management system. Such events are often known as "sprints" or "code sprints", and they are especially popular for open source software projects, where sprints or hackathons are sometimes the only opportunity for developers to meet face-to-face. Unlike other hackathons, these events rarely include a competitive element.

The annual hackathon to work on the operating system OpenBSD, held since 1999, is one such event; it was a pioneering hackathon that may have originated the word "hackathon".

Programming languages that have had such hackathons include Perl (for both development[57] and QA[58]), Haskell[59] Scala[60] and the PyPy interpreter for Python.

LibreOffice,[61] Drupal[62] and MediaWiki[63] are other applications that hold development hackathons.

Innovative economic development[edit]

A hackathon in the Illawarra region of Australia named Hackagong was started in 2012. It was founded by students of the university of Wollongong to ignite the local tech startup culture and contribute to local economy.[64] In 2013 it featured a 3D printing competition which may have been the first of its kind in Australia.

For beginners[edit]

Some hackathons are created for students that are newer to programming, such as CodeDay, a 24-hour hackathon in 27 cities across the United States geared towards beginner and intermediate students. "Beginner" hackathons usually have interactive workshops on several topics such as iOS development, video game development, and web development to teach students basic programming.[citation needed]


Some hackathons have no restrictions on content or attendees, and are simply a contest to generate interesting software applications quickly. SAPO Codebits, sponsored by the Portuguese internet service provider SAPO, is one example.


In 2012, nachtausgabe.de GmbH,[65] a German company, applied for and received a trademark registration for "Hackathon".[66] Apparently the trademark was subsequently used to claim rights to the hackathon.de[67] domain name.[68] The trademark registration was canceled in May 2013,[66] possibly due to community pressure about its legal basis.[69]

A November 2013 hackathon run by Salesforce.com, billed as having the largest-ever grand prize at $1 million, was accused of impropriety after it emerged that the winning entrants, a two-person startup called Upshot, had been developing the technology that they demoed for over a year, and that one of the two was a former Salesforce employee.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f The Hackathon Is On: Pitching and Programming the Next Killer App, Steven Leckart, Wired, March 2012
  2. ^ PhoneGap: It’s Like AIR for the IPhone, Dave Johnson, PhoneGap Blog, 18 September 2008
  3. ^ Adobe Acquires Developer Of HTML5 Mobile App Framework PhoneGap Nitobi, Leena Rao, TechCrunch, October 3, 2011
  4. ^ "Come to inspire and be inspired". HackPaloAlto. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  5. ^ a b Biddle, Sam (November 22, 2013). "The "Biggest Hackathon Prize In History" Was Won By Cheaters". Valleywag. 
  6. ^ Williams, Alex (November 21, 2013). "Two Harvard University Alum Win Disputed Salesforce $1M Hackathon Prize At Dreamforce [Updated]". TechCrunch. 
  7. ^ Hackers Get Hired At Bletchley Park, HuffPost Tech UK, September 19, 2011
  8. ^ AT&T Mobile App Hackathon 2011
  9. ^ "Music Hack Day homepage". Musichackday.org. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  10. ^ "Music Hackathon at Music Tech Fest in Boston". BBC.com. Retrieved 2015-03-05. 
  11. ^ "Science Hack Day homepage". Sciencehackday.org. Retrieved 2014-12-09. 
  12. ^ "Android Hackathon". Android Hackathon. 2010-03-13. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  13. ^ "iOSDevCamp 2011 Hackathon". Iosdevcamp.org. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  14. ^ "N9 Hackathon" (in German). Metalab.at. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  15. ^ "Nordeus 2011 Game Development Hackathon". Seehub.me. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  16. ^ "TV Hackfest homepage". Hackfest.tv. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  17. ^ "Article on TV Hackfest San Francisco". Techzone360.com. 2012-12-19. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  18. ^ "PDF of Feature article on TV Hackfest in AIB The Channel" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  19. ^ "OBF Hackathons". Open-bio.org. 2013-03-12. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  20. ^ "NESCent-sponsored Hackathons". Informatics.nescent.org. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  21. ^ T Hill (2007-12-14). "Hilmar Lapp, Sendu Bala, James P. Balhoff, Amy Bouck, Naohisa Goto, Mark Holder, Richard Holland, et al. 2007. "The 2006 NESCent Phyloinformatics Hackathon: A Field Report." Evolutionary Bioinformatics Online 3: 287–296". La-press.com. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  22. ^ "biohackathon.org". biohackathon.org. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  23. ^ "hackathon.neurosynth.org". hackathon.neurosynth.org. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  24. ^ "2012 Allen Brain Atlas Hackathon - Hackathon - Allen Brain Atlas User Community". Community.brain-map.org. 2012-09-04. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  25. ^ "Brainhack.org". Brainhack.org. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  26. ^ "HBM Hackathon - Organization for Human Brain Mapping". Humanbrainmapping.org. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  27. ^ DownCityJS, the Providence JavaScript Hackathon
  28. ^ HTML5 App Hackathon, May 5–6, 2012, Berlin, Germany
  29. ^ "Pune Rails Hackathon: July 29-30, 2006". Punehackathon.pbworks.com. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  30. ^ Open! Hack! Day!, Flickr blog, September 3, 2008
  31. ^ Purple in Bangalore – Inside Yahoo! Open Hack India 2012, Pushpalee Johnson, August 11, 2012, YDN Blog
  32. ^ "Google Hackathon • Vivacity 2015". Vivacity. 2014-12-25. Retrieved 2015-01-10. 
  33. ^ Melbourne Hack Day: List Of Presentations And Winners
  34. ^ The hackathon heard round the world!, Foursquare blog, September 20, 2011
  35. ^ If you build it, they will come. Check out all the cool new things you can do with Foursquare! #hackathon, Foursquare blog, January 8, 2013
  36. ^ Open government hackathons matter, Mark Headd, govfresh, August 24, 2011
  37. ^ In #HackWeTrust - The House of Representatives Opens Its Doors to Transparency Through Technology, Daniel Schuman, Sunlight Foundation blog, December 8, 2011
  38. ^ Toronto dementia hackathon 12-14 September, Dr. John Preece, British Foreign & Commonwealth Office Blogs, August 8, 2014
  39. ^ Toronto hackathon to target dementia challenges with innovative ideas, British High Commission Ottawa, GOV.UK, July 25, 2014
  40. ^ HackerNest hooks up with British Consulate-General Toronto for new DementiaHack, Joseph Czikk, Betakit, August 12, 2014
  41. ^ All aboard the transit hackathon express, Roberto Rocha, The Gazette, December 16, 2011
  42. ^ "Education Hack Day". Education Hack Day. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  43. ^ Fieldwork HackDay a Real Success
  44. ^ "fschackday.org". fschackday.org. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  45. ^ NASA, Microsoft, Google Hosting Hackathon, Elizabeth Montalbano, InformationWeek, June 7, 2010
  46. ^ Rocheleau, Matt. "In Aaron Swartz' memory, hackathons to be held across globe, including at MIT, next month". Boston Globe. Retrieved 17 October 2013. 
  47. ^ Doctorow, Cory. "Aaron Swartz hackathon". Boing Boing. Retrieved 17 October 2013. 
  48. ^ Sifry, Micah L. "techPresident". Personal Democracy Media. Retrieved 11 October 2013. 
  49. ^ "Aaron Swartz Hackathon". Retrieved 30 October 2013. 
  50. ^ Female Geeks Flex Their Skills At Ladies-Only Hackathon, Jed Lipinski, Fast Company, September 14, 2011
  51. ^ "Cal Hacks". Cal Hacks. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  52. ^ "Cal Hacks". The Daily Californian. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  53. ^ "Hackathons at Duke". Retrieved 2 March 2015. 
  54. ^ "PennApps". PennApps. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  55. ^ "MHacks". MHacks. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  56. ^ "HackIllinois". CS @ Illinois. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  57. ^ "Welcome to the First European Perl Hackathon". Conferences.yapceurope.org. 2007-03-04. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  58. ^ Perl QA hackathons
  59. ^ "Hac: The Haskell Hackathon". Haskell.org. 2013-06-30. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  60. ^ "The International Scala Hackathon". Scalathon. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  61. ^ "LibreOffice Events". The Document Foundation. 2014-07-11. Retrieved 2014-07-11. 
  62. ^ "Drupal NYC Hackathon". Groups.drupal.org. 2009-08-16. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  63. ^ "MediaWiki Events". Mediawiki.org. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  64. ^ "Hackagong to boost tech start-ups in city". illawarramercury.com.au. 2013-07-08. Retrieved 2014-06-10. 
  65. ^ "nachtausgabe.de". nachtausgabe.de. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  66. ^ a b "German Trademark Registry, entry 302012006340". Register.dpma.de. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  67. ^ hackathon.de
  68. ^ "@momorientes, "So apparently hackathon is now a registered trademark and they want my domain :/ not amused. Lawyers to the rescue!". Tweet. May 2, 2013". Twitter.com. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  69. ^ "@momorientes, "Seems like many people contacted lawyers to remove the trademark on hackathon. Thanks therefore.You're what makes this community outstanding". Tweet. May 8, 2013". Twitter.com. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 

External links[edit]