Extremes

‘Vaporware Is the New Minimal Viable Product,’ Declares Hype Up Weekend

San Francisco vaporware vaporathon elegantly illustrates exactly how hackathons have jumped the shark.
hackathonnyc 300x200 Vaporware Is the New Minimal Viable Product, Declares Hype Up Weekend

We don't even remember this one.

“At some point, the hackathon bubble has got to pop.” That’s what Betabeat wrote 11 months ago in a story we called “Welcome to Hackathon Central!” about the astonishing abundance of these developer sleepovers, which now occur on a bus, on an island, with massages (all real examples!) and in increasingly shorter periods.

We don’t know about other “startup hubs,” but New York City is bonkers about hackathons. They’re social. They’re a great place for recruiters to meet developers. It’s a way to promote your brand new API. It’s a great place to slap your corporate brand and attempt to appropriate a cool DIY thing. Etc. There’s at least one every weekend.

We figured at some point, the people who attend these events would start to feel burned out.

Were we wrong? Is the hackathon bubble indestructible? A pair of Internet snarksters have launched an Eventbrite page announcing a new flavor of hackathon: the kind without a product. 

“HYPE UP WEEKEND,” which lists its host as Facade Capital, a “worldwide network of experienced business analysts and venture capitalists, bringing cutting edge expertise to drive profitable growth.”

The project comes from Tim Hwang, founder of the ROFLCon Internet culture conference and Greg Marra, a web developer at Google in San Francisco. “We were particularly inspired with the success of Tacocopter,” Mr. Marra wrote in an email, referring to the GPS-guided taco delivery helicopter service that disappointed so many when it became apparent that it was not real. “There are hundreds more nascent business ideas that are too big to realize in a 24 hour hackathon, but could change the world if they came to fruition,” he said. “Hype Up Weekend allows these ‘ideas guys’ to shine.”

Hard to tell how far Mr. Marra had his tongue in cheek over email. With the hackathon supposedly charging $10,000 for the category of “Since You Are A Person I Trust, I Wanted To Invite You To Join My Network On LinkedIn,” there are only two possibilities: it’s an April Fool’s joke, or the hackathon thing has (ironically) jumped the shark.

Must be an April Fool’s joke, we thought.

But the pair insist they are earnest in their effort.

“There will definitely be an event on April 14th – we’re just in the process of finding a space for it now. Updates will be coming out over at @hypeupweekend,” Mr. Hwang said.

“One thing I’d add to Greg’s comments, at least on the reason why we’re doing all this. I think hackathons are frustrating for an obvious reason – they fail to recognize that awesome development really can’t happen in such a limited timeframe so you end up with a bunch of half-baked half-products,” he continued. “Awesome creativity can, though.”

Seriously? A hackathon with the express purpose of producing “some fancy splash pages, the barest glimmerings of working code, screencast demo videos, press releases and the release of ultra exclusive private beta invites”? Wait. That’s actually not much different from existing hackathons.

“I’ve been to hackathons in the past, and launched some cool products, but in 24 hours you can dream a lot bigger than you can code,” Mr. Marra said. “Sites like Kickstarter prove you just need to get to an idea, and the public will bring it to market.”

“The funny characteristic of the modern startup ecosystem is that attention around ideas seems to be the real valuable limited natural resource, not technology,” Mr. Hwang said.

Are you ROFLing at us, Mr. Hwang?

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com