How It Starts: The Story of #YACKATHON

In a way, it’s nothing new. Companies and schools and communities have been doing hackathons for forever (or since 1999, which is basically the same thing) and in Montreal really exciting hackathons like Hacking Health and Eco Hack and so many more have been bringing digital thinkers together to play with interesting social problems and getting lots of love and press this year.

Internally at Yelp (where I have worked for the last 3 years) the engineers have held 15 hackathons so far, the most famous result being the Monocle feature of the app, a playful way to plant yourself inside Yelp’s data.

Just this month Yelp’s 15th internal hackathon went down with remote control sharks overhead and my coworkers tackling everything from a pretty cool new tool that allows users to explore a city by its neighborhoods, to handmade sock puppet photo booths.

Sock puppets and sharks. Because “hacking.”

But this time things will be a little different (for better, worse, or weirder!)

This time, right here in Montreal, thanks to the sexy little nerd hub that is Notman House, we’ll throw Yelp’s VERY FIRST EVER community-based hackathon, ie; the YACKATHON.

Over 48hrs in February local data scientists, developers, and designers will come together with the Yelp Community and some pretty rad Montreal tech partners to imagine ways to use Yelp’s data to investigate our city. These people are frankly the most important part of the whole thing, so I look forward to featuring some of them here in the weeks ahead. They are the most important because they will make the hackmagic and because, let’s be honest, before they agreed to help I had basically no idea what I was doing.

I have thrown some interesting events in my day. Music video making and fashion design challenges; a live show where guests brought ingredients and musicians turned them into delicious soups then rocked out; a Halloween party with make-up artists turning guests into zombies; and literally hundreds of other bizarre and hopefully enjoyable gatherings. But I have never thrown a hackathon, and secretly I’m terrified.

But being terrified is something I’m trying to embrace. And I like engineers. I like scientists. I like developers and designers. I like Yelpers and the ways they engage with their cities. I like, above all, bringing people together to do something fun and creative and maybe even a little bit messy together. I really, really like the idea of a community Yackathon where we hang out and yackety yack and dig into datasets and try and put things together to make something new. So I read articles online, like these tips for hackathon success for hackers and for organizers. And I sat down with anyone who would talk to me about how to pull it off. I bought them beers and asked them to tell me everything. I’ll share the advice they generously dosed me up with in upcoming posts, but for now I want to end with the most compelling question for me so far when thinking about our very first, brand new, community-collaborative Yackathon:

Can we figure out what parts of Montreal, what combinations of local services and businesses, help bring people happiness?

Check out the event details on Yelp’s first Yackathon here. Send your advice and good vibes, and follow our progress via the hashtag. And hey why not sign up to join us? Let’s be terrified together =)



Your Yelp Community Manager Risa D. (

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