Travel Technology

What is the potential of hackathons for corporations? Zoom on Facebook

In December 2016, Mark Zuckerberg’s showcased the innovations that came out of a Facebook hackathon via Facebook Live. That intrigued me, and as I enjoyed watching the video, I decided to blog about it.

First of all: who follows Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook? If you don’t, you should consider doing so. It is a nice example of how to drive engagement via social media. What I like with his account is that he shares updates on the company’s innovations on a regular basis, the last one being the developments around AI (Artificial Intelligence) and the release of Jarvis.

For those who know me, you know I’m a tech geek, I am passionate by innovation, specifically in the travel tech space. In 2016, I have supported hackathons for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and I LOVED this experience! Read about my role as a mentor here.


Obviously when I found out about Facebook hackathons, it draught my attention. Let me tell you more about it.


What do Facebook hackathons consist of?

In the video, I found out that Facebook has organized not less than 70 internal hackathons since 2005!

Mark Zuckerberg explains that Facebook allocates time for employees to work overnight on their projects. During the December hackathon, the participants were given 8 hours to develop their ideas. Employees from Facebook head office as well as from Tel Aviv, New York, and Seattle participated. Rules as simple: ideas are not expected to be polished given the limited time they have.

The FB Live video shows the pitches of the groups in front of Mark Zuckerberg himself who finds out about the ideas at the same time as viewers! *Remember, I told you his account showcases best practices on how to drive engagement online via social media*

Before zooming on the ideas presented, let’s zoom on the benefits of such initiatives.


What are the benefits for Facebook, and in general for companies who organize internal hackathons?

Foster innovation

That is what I could observe during my own experiences too…

Facebook hackathons have resulted in prototypes that came into production. For instance, little features like adding GIFs, or the original Facebook video product.

Hackathons are a way to think out of the box. The fact to find oneself in a different context than the standard project mode in the office helps to foster innovation.

Team building: leverage employee engagement and personal development

A hackathon… What better opportunity than bringing to life some ideas you had while working on your standard projects?

Facebook product roadmap over time is set not only by FB but also by engineers.

Engineers and Product Manager actually hang out and come up with ‘early versions of something’.

Hackathons are excellent opportunities to develop team work and a better collaboration.

In the end, obviously hackathons stimulate the employees’ motivation.

Showcase innovation

As a participant, hackathons are a way to prove the value of your ideas. As a corporation, they are a way to showcase the creativity of your teams.

Hackathons are like giant brainstorming. They demonstrate that innovation can come from a simple idea. Hackathons set the basis and once elaborated, it can lead to great products!


What came out of Facebook hackathons?

Ideas developed in former hackathons and put in production

A list of non-exhaustive examples mentioned in the video:

• The initial video product dates back from 2007.
• The developer platform for games.
• Facebook Connect.
• The first version of Facebook chat.
• The first version of Search.
• GIFs.
• Facebook Live.

• Facebook internal tools: (confidential). The video tells us they have been building internal   solutions on iOS enabling them to build them 3 times faster.
Benefits are following:

1) enhance the whole productivity of the company ;

2) enable to work together more easily and move faster (ship the product easily).

Ideas pitched

During December 2016 hackathon, the following ideas were pitched in front of Mark Zuckerberg:

I encourage you to watch the above video for a complete description


1) Virtual Reality
…Using heath / cold sensations depending what you are touching.

2) Share location via Messenger
Users would be able to accept/decline the feature ‘share location with your friends’. This is a great example beyond Safety Check.

3) Add GIFs in comments
GIFs already exist in Messenger but not elsewhere on Facebook as of today. You would type a word to search for GIFs.

4) Offline messaging
Interesting one! The objective is to bypass the Internet to message.
This is particularly appropriate for emerging markets who have difficult access to the Internet, or for cases when connection is not available (underground …).
The idea is to let people create they own network and message when they’re offline: a sort of peer to peer communication.
The first version i.e. connect via people who are near you, could be live within a few months (a sort of Messenger Light) e.g. phone #3 could talk to phone #1 through the phone #2.

5) Recommendations
Users receive recommendations based on their friends’ posts, empowered by machine learning. Recos also feed stories that would get better as people interact with them.
AI/machine learning actually reads what a person posted, in order to understand what the person is searching, if he/she is looking at getting photos, at finding a restaurant… That is how a person can get recommendations based on their friend’s posts, e.g. ”Where can I find a nice restaurant in city x?”

6) Photofy and Videofy
They are mentioned as part the recommendations ideas, but I thought it was worth writing some lines about them.
1- Create a shared album of photos/add your own photos to an album e.g. photos of an event you attended with friends.2- It was your B-Day last week… At the end of the day, instead of having to go through each post, you simply tap one button once and it plays all the videos in a row, and creates a shared album with all the comments.

What’s coming next?

Hackathons are part of Facebook’s company culture. They do hackathons in Facebook offices all over the world (Boston, London, Tel Aviv…).

What’s new is that Facebook has started to sponsor some ‘public’ hackathons, mostly related to high school, campuses, VR industry, or tools for mobile developments…

My advice: watch this space!


snapchat For live updates and fun follow me on snapchat (ID: travelthink)

insta Follow me on Instagram for my beautiful shots (ID: travelthink)

insta Follow me On Twitter for news and daily updates @AurelieKrau


Leave a Reply