RealTime IT News

Yahoo Opens Up to New Ideas

David Filo
Chief Yahoo David Filo
Source: Yahoo

SUNNYVALE, Calif. - You might say hacking has come full circle for Yahoo. The venerable Web site started as a kind of "hack," a way for Stanford Ph.D. students David Filo and Jerry Yang to provide a guide to the emerging World Wide Web back in 1994.

"The site was originally named 'Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web', according to the company's Wikipedia entry. Later, Wikipedia says Filo and Yang selected Yahoo because they liked the word's general definition, which comes from "Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift: "rude, unsophisticated, uncouth."

Fast forward to 2008 and here is Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) sponsoring the second Open Hack day on its Silicon Valley campus since the first one in 2006 (there have also been a few others outside the U.S.).

Open Hack, which started last Friday afternoon, is a 24-hour "hack-a-thon" of program sharing and competition. The aim is to help developers exchange and present ideas for improving the myriad of sites and services that fall under the Yahoo banner. The first Yahoo Hack day was actually in 2004, but it was an internal affair, limited to Yahoo employees.

The event also fits with Yahoo's recent open campaign that emphasizes the company's commitment to being an open platform. There aren't lawyers, marketers or recruiters roaming the Open Hack; rather, the idea is to let outside developers mingle freely with Yahoo's own programming talent in an open, interactive way.

"What you can do in a day is pretty limited," David Filo, Chief Yahoo at the company he co-founded, told InternetNews.com. "The code isn't that valuable, it's the ideas and the relationships formed that are important."

More than 330 developers participated and some 47 "hacks" were submitted and demoed on Saturday afternoon. A list of participants and winners can be se en here.

Filo said Open Hack is another example of how Yahoo is transforming from the early days, when it was known as an Internet portal or more of a closed destination site. "I see Yahoo shrinking in some sense as an end all, be all site," he said. "Now it's become more of a platform on the Internet that other can build on."

One of the latest examples is BOSS, the 'Build Your Own Search Service' Yahoo released in July. Essentially, BOSS opens up Yahoo's search infrastructure as a kind of development platform for others to innovate on.

Eventually 'BOSS-powered' sites will feature ads from Yahoo's network and a revenue share program, but for now the goal is to spawn new kinds of search services based on Yahoo's technology and go from here. The services built on BOSS won't actually say BOSS-powered or have Yahoo's logo; the idea is for them to succeed or fail on their own merits.

"The bottom line is we don't know what to expect, but we think it will be interesting," said Filo.

One example, is Cluuz, a new search service in beta that displays photos in results and automatically extracts people, companies, phone numbers, emails, addresses and domains. Cluuz also offers a semantic graphical view of your results, giving you a quick overview of how different results are related.

Chrome and catering to developers

Filo and other Yahoo personnel spoke to a group of press late Friday afternoon on a variety of topics kicking off Open Hack 2008. For one, Yahoo confirmed it has no plans to create a browser like the one released by its Silicon Valley rival Google (NASDAQ: GOOG).

"We looked at doing our own browser, but it's a very crowded market and we didn't see where we could add value," said Ash Patel, executive vice president of Yahoo's Audience Product division. He also said Yahoo was "happy" to see Chrome released because it increases competition. Filo said Yahoo has always taken the approach that it should work across all browsers.

Chris Yeh, who heads Yahoo's developer network, said his group is working hard to standardize the tools or methodology for developing for Yahoo. "As a company, we grew up in so many different silos," he said, noting the additional challenge of incorporating companies Yahoo's acquired that used different tools.

He also said a top priority is to simplify the agreement that gives outside developers access to Yahoo's APIs for commercial use. "It's our most frequent request," said Yeh.

Yahoo said more than 330 developers representing 12 countries participated in Open Hack. That group chowed down on 400 pizzas, 106 dozen doughnuts and 20 cases of energy drinks were consumed over a 24-hour period.