Yahoo took its developer story to Broadway by hosting its Open Hack Day at the Hudson Theatre in New York City’s historic theater district in Times Square.
You might say the company was putting on a continuation of its long-running show for developers on the Yahoo platform, as well as auditioning for other developers looking to enhance the visibility of their applications by tapping into Yahoo’s platform.
Cody Simms, senior director of product management for Yahoo Open Strategy, said Yahoo started its Open Hack Day events in 2005 as an internal method for Yahoo’s developers to “blow off some steam” and develop anything they wanted to in 24 hours. Then they would get 90 seconds to demonstrate their creations and vie for the top spot with other developers. The Open Hack Day event that occurred October 9 and 10 at the Hudson Theatre and the Millennium Broadway Hotel — to which the theater is attached — is the ninth “open” hack day for Yahoo, and the first to be held on the East Coast.
“We’ve been building a platform that’s focused on the Yahoo consumer experience,” Simms said, noting that Yahoo has recently re-launched its home page, mail and messenger services. “We’re bringing an audience distribution opportunity that Yahoo has never had before. As developers start working with us they can reach audiences more cheaply.”
To drive home this point, Simms pointed out that Yahoo’s home page has 330 million users, Yahoo Mail has 300 million users, Yahoo Messenger has 120 million users and the My Yahoo site has 45 million users.
Jay Rossiter, senior vice president of platform development at Yahoo, said Yahoo’s story appeals to developers because of the vast opportunity it represents, among other things.
“The developer community is interested in showing their stuff — they’re interested in how they can remain popular and how they can make money,” Rossiter said. “And they can do that with Yahoo.”
Yahoo recently opened up its home page to allow developers to place their applications on the Yahoo home page and build an audience on Yahoo. The company also opened up its Yahoo Updates social referral engine, Simms said. “You can distribute your stuff on Yahoo through Yahoo Updates,” he said. Also, Yahoo Messenger has Yahoo Updates baked in.
“We’re just making it simple,” Rossiter said. “We’re making it easier for people to get at valuable Yahoo data.” Moreover, Rossiter added that “a big piece of the overall program is establishing trust.”
Carrie Cronkey, director of business development and strategy at Mint.com, said Mint is riding the wave of the Yahoo platform “because it has such a large reach. It’s hard to resist a platform that big. Yahoo is so trusted by its users. A lot of people don’t know us, but they know Yahoo. And we see a lot of people come through Yahoo and convert to Mint for their financial software.”
Yahoo hosted more than 500 developers for the two-day event, which also featured a vast hacker lounge where developers could eat and even catch a few winks. The Yahoo developer shindig took place in what appears to be the season for vendor developer events. Adobe held its annual developer conference, Adobe MAX, early in October, and the Symbian Foundation is holding its developer event at the end of the month. In November, Nokia’s Qt, eBay’s PayPal and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry developer conferences will be held. Also in November, Microsoft will hold what is perhaps the granddaddy of all developer events, the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC).
Yeh and other Yahoo executives on hand at the event acknowledged that Yahoo has taken a perception hit amongst industry observers in light of the company’s search deal with Microsoft earlier this year. But that negative perception has not spilled over to the ranks of developers, Yeh maintains – particularly developers who might need a library or component Yahoo provides.
Yeh explained that Yahoo has a unique relationship with developers. The company has fostered a grassroots relationship with developers, he said. “Developers are extremely practical; you cannot market to developers,” Yeh said. “If you try to give them something that doesn’t work, they’re just going to walk away. Our developer programs are very grassroots focused.”
Indeed, Yeh added that Yahoo is takes a different approach with its developer outreach rather than to try to focus on the strength of its tools like Microsoft, or on its enterprise reach like IBM. “We’re not going to be in a scale war with Google for hosting people’s code,” Yeh said. “And we’re not going to get into a scale war with Amazon for support of grid computing, at least not now,” he added. Yahoo’s strength lies in its consumer platform.
Meanwhile, Yeh said Yahoo’s support for open source software is “very strategic” to the company’s ongoing efforts to support both its consumers and developers. For instance, Yahoo invests heavily in the open source Hadoop framework. And the company is in the process of open-sourcing other key technologies the company uses internally.
“We have an open source working group to make sure Yahoo technologies are open-sourced in the right way,” Yeh said.
Sam Pullara, chief technologist at Yahoo, said one technology Yahoo is open sourcing is the Yahoo Traffic Server (YTS). Traffic Server is a piece of software initially acquired by Yahoo from Inktomi. The software has been actively developed and used at Yahoo for the last three years or so.