As Steven Levy defines it, ‘hacks’ were projects undertaken by these hackers not to fulfill any sort of end goal other than to take pleasure from working on it. A hackathon is an event where a bunch of people gather to hack on things together for a short duration (usually a weekend).

More thoughts on why hackathons have gone downhill and what’s next.


“I want hackathons to embody a starting point not a set timeframe”

How do we push for hackathons to be the ‘start’ of the journey rather than saying its the entirety of a short, not super comprehensive event?

In other words, how can we make hackathons events for people to dip toes into ideas and concepts without having them need to be ‘judged’ for polish or ability to fully solve a problem?

Questions to think about:

  • how do we continue projects beyond their initial timeframe
  • should hackathons even focus on maintainable projects when they require so much context?
  • what does “hacking racism” mean? what about social good hackathons in general? how realistic is it so try and solve some sort of large societal issue in the span of a few days?

Hackathons as co-optation ritual

Source: Hackathons as Co-optation Ritual: Socializing Workers and Institutionalizing Innovation in the “New” Economy

[Hackathons] reshape unpaid and precarious work. Writing code and building apps for free becomes an extraordinary opportunity, a ritual of ecstatic labour, and a collective imaginary for fictional expectations of innovation that benefits all.

Many prototypes that are developed during hackathons, even winning projects, are not really usable.

[Hackathons] translate the values of longstanding hacker subculture into new work norms… using rituals of play and pleasure to co-opt a wide range of talent into the service of corporations and the state without offering participants full-time jobs. As one participant says:

“[Hackathons] are also perfect for my creative spur. I work as a corporate consultant and sometimes miss the research thing, the building of things. Hackathons allow me to do this.”

Hackathons are a multi-site mechanism for both “manufacturing” innovation and “manufacturing consent”

The hackathon acts a a multimodal platform for building social capital as well as facilitating and institutionalizing innovation. Yet the hackathon’s corporate sponsors are front and center in control of the event.

Sponsors fuel the romance of digital innovation by appealing to hackers’ apsiration to be multi-dimensional agents of chance. “Doers, makers & disruptors,” one announcement goes. Sponsors don’t really think hackathons are a good recruitment tool. Performance on a hackathon team doesn’t give an adequate indication of ability to work on a “real” team. Hackathons are more important for companies because they need to maintain their ‘cool’ profile.