Bangalore: In a red T-shirt and blue jeans, David Filo, the iconic programmer and co-founder of Yahoo Inc., looked every bit like one of the 303 hackers who were busy writing code at the company’s Open Hack Day on Saturday.
So, does Filo still write code? “Yahoo is no longer a start-up; but yes I do, just a little…here and there,” said Filo, who attended the two-day event in Bangalore, which was the second in the city and seventh globally since it was launched in Sunnyvale, California, in 2006.
Providing a platform: Yahoo’s David Filo in Bangalore on Saturday. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Open Hack Days are events hosted by Yahoo in which participants are encouraged to create Web applications using Yahoo’s Application Programming Interfaces or open source libraries. The idea behind the event is to “look and learn about all the platforms we have, create some interesting applications…we learn from them, they learn from us,” Filo said.
Strategic it is when Yahoo is opening its mail platform to third-party use for customization, expecting the students, engineers, start-ups as well as established companies to build applications. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. If we knew about good ideas, we’d be doing it ourselves,” said Filo, who expects some mail applications to be launched in the next few months.
Yahoo India research and development (R&D) chief executive Sharad Sharma thinks this is the right way to involve the Indian community to customize existing applications according to local needs. Even though the company falls behind Google Inc. in the Indian search engine market, it has the largest share in the email segment, which also has a Hindi mail client.
For the first time, Yahoo recently organized Hack U, the university version, at the Indian Institutes of Technology in Delhi and Mumbai, and also signed an R&D agreement on cloud computing with the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad.
“India is being used as a lab, a test market, for the rest of the world,” said Sharma, citing the example of Glue, which, developed in Bangalore, was recently launched for worldwide use. Glue is a service added to its search pages that enables the user to put together different topic pages for browsing convenience.
Sharma wouldn’t give away any whiff of the “lab experiments”, but said that in the non-consumer segment, Yahoo has done similar experiments in Our City, which provides information on services in local neighbourhoods, and Maps, an online mapping portal.
In a move towards platform monetization, Yahoo has also announced a usage fee on its Build Your Own Search Engine, or BOSS, application programming interface even as it continues to add new features to it. Sharma believes this is “powerful for Indian talent where developers can build a search experience that is compelling for users worldwide and which is expensive otherwise”.
Using BOSS, an individual or a start-up can come up with an application and quickly scale it up for business. “Now you can create a YouTube out of Bangalore,” said Sharma. And that’s the justification for the user fee. “In the long term, in order to allow people to build their businesses on these platforms, we need resources to invest in them,” said Filo.
For now, he is already investing in human resources. He thinks India lags behind the US and the UK in the hacking culture, but is catching up. Lying on several beanbags and slumped on chairs in three halls of a five-star hotel are scores of programmers trying to hack into four Yahoo platforms. Peering into his laptop, Akshay Surve, founder of a Mumbai start-up Social Sync., is even prepared to forego sleep to complete his “hack”; such late night gigs are not unusual for him.
Yahoo expects at least 40 good hacks to emerge from this event. For Filo, who was once famous for sleeping under his desk in Yahoo’s pre-initial public offering days, this is universal nerd culture. “It’s (a culture) still there in the Silicon Valley.”