Pestering your friends just became a whole lot easier

One of the great benefits of working at Yahoo! is participating with a diverse pool of colleagues in our quarterly Hack Day competitions. Google has its weekly “20% time,” where individuals go off and build whatever they’d like; Yahoo! takes a less time-intensive, but fundamentally different, approach which really resonates with me:

Every 3 months, Yahoos from all parts of the company have 24 hours to build new products (or enhancements to existing products) with the express goal of showcasing their work in front of the company… and its top executives.

It’s what we’ve dubbed “Hack Day,” and it’s been remarkably successful at bubbling up top ideas and talent to decision makers internally… and then out to our users.*

So, it was out of our most recent event that Loc Amigos emerged. Fellow Developer Network crony Jason Levitt drummed up the idea of scouring the address books of a user’s different mail accounts to find which social networks these contacts may already be a part of… sure beats the current approach most use of sending emails to everyone in your address book. Using the Yahoo! Mail APIs as well as some screen-scrapers for Hotmail, AOL Mail, and Gmail, as well as the YUI user interface libraries, Jason worked with Kathleen Watkins and I to quickly assemble a working version of the product.

Does it work? Absolutely. Is it the best user interface for this sort of challenge? No way… but, it demonstrates something very important: a small, nimble team quickly working on a proof-of-concept can take a cool idea, get a working prototype, and now take it into usability labs to get real user feedback.

It’s this rapid, entrepreneurial spirit that is still fostered inside Yahoo!, and makes it a very exciting place to work. Even more exciting, the Developer Network (of which I’m now a part of) works on projects like this all the time in efforts to demonstrate and test the very APIs and Web Services we promote. It’s hard to imagine a more collaborative, inspiring environment, especially one built to encourage others (whether individual designers/developers, startups, or even our competitors) to succeed in similar ways using our (and others’) tools.

* For more on what Hack Day is, and why it rocks, see Chad Dickerson’s post on Yahoo! Hack Days as well as Matt McAlister’s Top 10 Reasons Hack Day Rocks.