Dave Winer says that Hackathons are nonsense. Specifically he says:
Hackathons are how marketing guys wish software were made.
However, to make good software, requires lots of thought, trial and error, evaluation, iteration, trying the ideas out on other users, learning, thinking, more trial and error, and on and on. At some point you say it ain’t perfect, but it’s useful, so let’s ship. That process, if the software is to be any good, doesn’t happen in 24 hours. Sometimes it takes years, if the idea is new enough.
Dave says that software is hard and you can’t you can’t expect to build shippable software in a day. That’s certainly true, and if the goal of a hackathon was to get a bunch of developers together to build and ship commercial software in a day, I’d agree with him. But that’s not the goal of any of the hackathons I’ve attended.
I’ve participated in and/or helped organize perhaps a dozen Music Hack Days. At a Music Hack Day, people who are interested in music and technology get together for a weekend to learn about music tech and to build something with it. The goal isn’t to ship a software product, it is to scratch that personal itch to do something cool with music. The people who come to a Music Hack Day are often not in the music tech space, but are interested in learning about all the music APIs and tech available. They come to learn and then use what they’ve learned to build something. At the most recent Music Hack Day in San Francisco, 200 hackers built 60 hacks including new musical instruments, new music discovery tools, social music apps and music games.
Music Hack Days are not nonsense. They are incredibly creative weekends that have resulted in a 1,000 or more really awesome music hacks. Consider the hackathon to be the Haiku of programming. Instead of 17 syllables in 3 lines, a hacker has 24 hours. (Maybe we should call them Haikuthons;) I think the 24 hour constraint contributes to the creativity of the event.
Here are some of my favorite hacks built at recent Music Hack Days. Plenty of whimsy but no nonsense here:
- Drinkify – Answers the question “I’m listening to X, what should I drink?
- Invisible Instruments – Just what it says, musical instruments that you can’t see
- Bohemian Rhapsichord – Turns Queen’s Opus into a musical instrument
- Musaic – Discover music through photomoasics
- MIDEM Music Machine – a beautiful visualization of a song
- Tourrent Plans - Plan your tour based on where all the torrent downloaders are
- Stringer – a virtual string instrument
- The Swinger - Makes any song swing