This article was published on December 20, 2012

The Hacker Way: Facebook reveals its top hacks of 2012

The Hacker Way: Facebook reveals its top hacks of 2012

The culture at Facebook has always been known to be about The Hacker Way. Through this philosophy, the company has periodically held and participated in numerous hackathons on its campus. Today, it has shared what it says are the top hacks from the past year.

For the Facebook engineering team, they’ve had a rather interesting and busy year. Whether it’s shifting its focus to mobile, launching the rewrites of the service’s iOS and Android apps, releasing the new Nearby tab within its app, or Facebook Gifts, there’s always something going on. And the team still has time to sit down and focus on building some creative hacks.

Some of these hacks are good and some aren’t. Some get implemented into the Facebook service while others don’t, or perhaps help to spearhead alternative endeavors for the engineer. This year, the company held 12 hackathons on campus, which produced products like full-screen photos, threaded commends, calendar view for events, and new languages for Facebook for Every Phone. Each of these hacks are now live on Facebook.

The goal of each of these hackathons, according to Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is to have anyone participate and give them time to build prototypes for new ideas that they have. The company tells us that the intent isn’t to go out and get funding for these projects, which is what you might expect at a Demo Day or a tech conference or event. Rather, it’s more about encouraging someone to realize their dream and build something that could potentially change the world, or at least Facebook.

While hackathons are a favorite of Facebook engineers, it isn’t limited to internal teams. Earlier this month, college teams from around the world participated in the annual College Hackathon. Around the same time, there was a Windows 8 hackathon with the company as well.

Zuckerberg defines “The Hacker Way” as simply this:

…an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.

So what were the top apps in 2012?

A giant QR code that can be scanned from space

Created at the first hackathon this year, this hack involved basically painting an enormously large QR code on the roof of one of the buildings at Facebook’s new campus. When scanned, it pointed to a “spoof Facebook job listing for a QR code painter”.

Green Bay fans in Michigan? Really?

When flying to Michigan, Facebook engineer Paul Tarjan engaged in a conversation with someone sitting next to him. The two discussed their love for football and Tarjan learned people in the western part of Michigan’s upper peninsula rooted for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, not the Detroit Lions. So he set out to determine whether this type of comparison could be sorted based on the likes of NFL teams on Facebook by county.

Move fast and ship more photo views

Created by Facebook engineer Pete Hunt who was working on building out new photo views and “accidentally produced a full-screen version that had almost no chrome around the photo.” After working on this during a hackathon, it quickly became a product the service used and it has been implemented with all users.

New Events views, now with 100% more calendar

Another service that is now being used on Facebook is this events calendar created by product engineer Bob Baldwin. An extension of the Events permalink hack he created in 2011, this hack resulted in the creation of new list and calendar views for Events, complete with integrated posts, photos, and videos.

Pretty colors > email alerts

Pedram Keyani, Jon Coens and Vinicius De Freitas Reis from Facebook’s Site Integrity team wanted an easy way for people on the team to track the health of our spam-fighting services. The team already had email alerts set up, but they were easy to miss. They built an ambient display using the open source hardware platform Arduino. The display uses LEDs that glow different colors, depending on the health of services.

You want fries with that server?

A bit more of a technical one on Facebook’s list. The hack here was an infrastructure test to help find a way to run its servers hotter while also determining new ways to decrease the use of server fans. Based on tests that the company’s hardware and data center design teams ran, it was successful and was able to run servers at temperatures above 110 degrees Farenheit.

Hacking the jams

Everyone loves to have music, especially hackers. At one of the hackathons, engineer Richard Zadorozny created a service called “Hack the Air” that lets people at the hack request songs and find out what’s been played — almost like it’s or a diner jukebox. It pulls song lists from GrooveShark and was integrated with Open Graph.

Too spikey, too binary, just right

With this hack, we saw it first-hand during the Facebook College Hackathon. Benjie Holson from the Timeline engineering team created a model to map where people use Facebook. It was then printed out using a 3D printer. Basically, it’s like you’re looking at a globe and seeing where all the users are.

Main header image credit: JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

All other images: Facebook

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