“A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest, datathon or codefest; a portmanteau of hacking marathon) is a design sprint-like event; often, in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, domain experts, and others collaborate intensively on software projects.
The goal of a hackathon is to create functioning software or hardware by the end of the event. Hackathons tend to have a specific focus, which can include the programming language used, the operating system, an application, an API, or the subject and the demographic group of the programmers. In other cases, there is no restriction on the type of software being created.
The word “hackathon” is a portmanteau of the words “hack” and “marathon”, where “hack” is used in the sense of exploratory programming, not its alternate meaning as a reference to breaching computer security.
OpenBSD’s apparent first use of the term referred to a cryptographic development event held in Calgary on June 4, 1999, where ten developers came together to avoid legal problems caused due to export regulations of cryptographic software from the United States. Since then, a further three to six events per year have occurred around the world to advance development, generally on university campuses.
For Sun Microsystems, the usage referred to an event at the JavaOne conference from June 15 to June 19, 1999; there John Gage challenged attendees to write a program in Java for the new Palm V using the infrared port to communicate with other people who are using Palm and register it on the Internet.
Starting in the mid to late 2000s, hackathons became significantly more widespread and began to be increasingly viewed by companies and venture capitalists as a way to quickly develop new software technologies, and to locate new areas for innovation and funding. Some major companies were born from these hackathons, such as GroupMe, which began as a project at a hackathon at the TechCrunch Disrupt 2010 conference; in 2011 it was acquired by Skype for $85 million. The software PhoneGap began as a project at the iPhoneDevCamp (later renamed iOSDevCamp) in 2008; the company whose engineers developed PhoneGap, Nitobi, refocused itself around PhoneGap, and Nitobi was bought by Adobe in 2011 for an undisclosed amount.
In some hackathons, all work is on a single application, such as an operating system, programming language, or content management system. Such events are often known as “code sprints“, and are especially popular for open source software projects, where such events are sometimes the only opportunity for developers to meet face-to-face.
Code sprints typically last from one week to three weeks and often take place near conferences at which most of the team attend. Unlike other hackathons, these events rarely include a competitive element.
The annual hackathon to work on the operating system OpenBSD, held since 1999, is one such event; it may have originated the word “hackathon”.
An edit-a-thon (a portmanteau of editing marathon) is an event where editors of online communities such as Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap (also as a “mapathon”), and LocalWiki edit and improve a specific topic or type of content. The events typically including basic editing training for new editors.”