One of the problems is that the term ‘hackaton’ was hijacked. AFAIK the term was invented by the OpenBSD project and was a get-together where people hacked an open source project and had fun together.
Nowadays, most hackatons are just attempts to get free labor or easy recruiting channels. I think the most obvious solution is not mentioned in the linked article: remove goals from the hackaton. Just pick a theme (hack on project X), let everyone do whatever they want to work on, have a good time.
Pretty much, there’s nothing wrong with a hackathon as in getting together making some neat shit or contributing to an open source project. The hackathons I went to either had a prize that was like “A tshirt” or bragging rights or something, everyone went home to sleep for the night and the the environment was very relaxing. I live in Raleigh NC though, I don’t even think we’re big enough to have shitty “hackathons”.
There’s a BLT Hackathon that happens every few months in Dublin where we do general hacking on open source, and it works pretty well. A local company (The Web Summit) provides space and good food, there’s usually 5-10 projects that people can work on and 20-30 people total. It’s a good way to get people involved in open source projects, and for them to try out new technologies.
But are there BLT (Bacon Lettuce Tomato) sandwiches?
I’m probably just old, but I don’t get hackathons.
I can’t think at all once I get near the sleep-deprivation phase. Additionally, I’m not very good at working for free for commercial interests.
At Khan Academy we’ve been trying to brand ours as “Healthy Hackathons” — people can stay late optionally, but we kick them out at 11:45pm to get sleep, bring in healthy food, snacks, and activities, and always commit our real working hours / work week as part of the schedule (not just weekends/after hours).
We actually just held our Monday-Friday Healthy Hack Week last week (http://healthyhackathon.khanacademy.org). One of my favorite weeks ever, particularly because we encourage “hacks” of all kinds that don’t have to include coding, and the entire company dives in, which is my favorite part.
They’ve been internal only so far. Maybe some day we’ll open it up.
I think internal hackathons are really great. Then it isn’t about getting free labor or marketing your API, it’s about letting employees worm across department lines on projects they would never see in the normal course of their day.
I actually ran a few hackathons for a former employer and it was great fun. (It was a small company with about 10 people participating.)
All-nighter/weekender Hackathon for civic hacking or some other “social good” thing: probably OK.
All-nighter/weekender Hackathon for marketing purposes? or within a company? Just no.