A letter from Jason Calacanis, the owner of Hack a Day

HaD Community,

We’ve heard the feedback, death threats and *sigh*s regarding the more accessible “top X” posts we’ve published recently. we’re going to pause on these while we internally discuss the mission and goals of Hackaday.

For background, I came up with the name Hackaday while brainstorming a site for hacks with [Phillip Torrone], who was then working on a hack every two or three weeks for a new blog called Engadget which [Peter Rojas]  and I had founded. When we sold Weblogs Inc, the parent company of Engadget, Hackaday and 100 other blogs to AOL I pulled Hackaday out of the deal at the last-minute.

Why? Well, let’s just say that this dark overlord realized the dark overlords at the bigger Death Star (known as Time Warner) would not take kindly to having their set-top boxes and DVD players hacked. The head of legal department at said Death Star almost exploded when she read Hackaday.

Hackaday then existed in a shell company before I bought it from my former partners at weblogs inc. I did this, as opposed to selling it or shutting it down, because I know Hackaday is a unique place for a unique group of folks to share what they are working on.

My thinking has been “as long as I don’t lose too much money on this I’m fine with HaD just chugging along.” I’m happy to say that while I’ve lost a little money it’s not a lot (well, not happy, but not devastated. :-)

All that being said, I’d like to see Hackaday grow and expand its mission beyond “one hardware hack a day.” That’s why I asked the Hackaday crew to set up answers.hackaday.com and try out a Q&A forum for folks… which you guys seem to have embraced and used. It’s seems to be getting some traffic and is providing some utility.

What I’d like to see is for “classic hackaday” to expand into a place where a wider audience can learn and be inspired to hack *anything*.

So, if a casual internet users wants to rip their DVR apart and try upgrading the hard drive we should be the place they can learn how to do that. If they have a problem, they can ask a question here too.

If someone wants to jailbreak their iPhone or rip their iPad apart and embed it in the dashboard of their car they should be able to do that here.

… or if they want to learn some life hacks related to their Gmail account, we have a long article with the top 25 lifehacks for that.

So, my proposal to the community is to:

  1. a) Keep doing exactly what we’ve done an RSS feed called “classic”
  2. b) Expand the mission statement to something along the lines of “hack everything” (or maybe “hack anything” sounds more ambitious/fun?). Perhaps best said is: “hack everything, and inspire and help others to do that same.”

Thoughts? Feedback?

-Jason Calacanis

280 thoughts on “A letter from Jason Calacanis, the owner of Hack a Day

  1. just stick to hacks is all we ask, hardware, software, life, wetware, whatever, it is what you are good at.

    “best ofs” reviews, and “how to use software for what it was intended” are just not what people read this site for.

  2. Hey, I say go for it. First off, there isn’t an interesting hack EVERY day. So fill in a little content with other things – I mean geez, people can always ignore it! I have been an internet user for oh …18 years now and Hackaday and Engadget are the only sites I go to on a daily basis. Do something new, and if you can make a bit more money without compromising the spirit of the site … go for it.

  3. Thanks for posting Jason, its nice to see you on our front page! It is very refreshing to see the owner interacting with and taking the input of the community(since you usually have other projects that you are primarily involved in).

    I would love to see people think of Hackaday as a resource to learn hacking. I don’t think it should be limited to electronics either.

    Look at the new Android dev series Greg is doing. That is fantastic in my opinion. It brings in the beginners and educates them. I’d like to see us do the same thing for microprocessors, fabrication etc.

    Software reviews and tool reviews have always been welcome, as long as they are tools that pertain to us as tinkerers. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to the most complicated, but personally I think we should strive to be easily distinguishable from the plethora of other sites (gizmodo/engadget etc).

  4. As I previously mentioned when you announced the new Software writers, I know one of them. I am more than thrilled that hack-a-day can become something more. I do agree that filters would be very handy, as I sometimes browse this site looking only for hardware hacks. But that being said I fully intend to read every software post. Including the one just posted. Keep expanding, a community must grow, and this awesome community needs to accept that many hardware hacks has software involved at some point. Whether that be embedded or otherwise.

  5. I think that expanding the content that HaD covers is a good idea, as long as you keep posting the same quality content that your long-term audience has come to expect from this site, which has in the past catered to a niche audience.

  6. I’ve been drawn to Hack A Day by the unique content. For the more mundane content I usually go to other outlets like Tom’s. Keeping the “hardcore” focus is what I’d like to see personally. Be that through a RSS feed or something else is fine. If the scope of the site did broaden I might enjoy seeing more topics covered, but hard to say until that starts to happen.

    As for the whiny elitists, they’re always going to be whiny elitists regardless of what is done with the site. Thanks for supporting the site, hopefully it has a long and healthy future.

  7. Hack the planet!

    I, as a long-time reader, have absolutely no problem with the direction the site has been taking lately. I don’t expect every single post to be right up my alley, so I don’t mind if you have a few posts every week catering to a crowd that’s either more or less advanced than me or covering a topic I’m not interested in. You can’t please everyone, so it’s not even worth it to try. Just stick to your guns and what you feel is the right direction for Hackaday.

  8. I’ve been reading HAD for quite a few years now and I do understand it may be time to grow beyond the simple hack-a-day theme, but there has to be a balance to keep the site’s spirit. Example: The 5-minutes-ago post about twitter apps. The article was GREAT, the writer really knew what he was talking about, and I learned about apps I would’ve never found by myself. But this is simply not the place to publish it.
    Forums to discuss, improve, develop proyects: YES
    Hack a day hardware/software posts: YES
    What attracted me to this place in the first time was it’s simplicity.
    A single, useful, interesting post every single day.
    Anything from a single-wire mod hack all the way up to completely rewriting a devices firmware to do “extra stuff”.
    Now, it seems HAD is simply trying to cram anything that ends up on their hands into the poor site. Even simple details like how I’m now able to use CaPiTaL LeTeRs seem to have destroyed the original (in the sense of creativity) idea of lowercase only posts.
    I don’t mind having several articles a day… but let’s just take care of what’s being published here.
    I’m glad you took the user’s comments seriously… it really shows how much you do appreciate the site.
    Let’s keep the spirit of HAD alive. :D

  9. Expanding the mission is expanding my hate. I want hacks, not spam from Google/Twitter on what Apps I should have on my Droid.
    You used to be a site of originality. A site that would bring light to the smallest of Hackers. I waited in line at Defcon to buy your shirts cause I loved you guys!
    Get back to your roots(Sudo su)! HaD is not Engadget, Digg, Gizmodo, or any of those other sites! Keep it that way!

  10. I am surprised that the complaints were about the nature of the post in question – my sole concern was with the quality thereof.

    It was technically inaccurate, poorly researched and frankly, far too vague on many things.

    The author expressed no apologies when it was repeatedly pointed out that his article was just plain wrong. Much of the article dealt with assumptions and misunderstandings that ran so deep that at least two of the suggestions didn’t even make any actual sense in the context of the subject matter of the post.

    In short, appealing to a broader audience is fine – but when your writers can’t be bothered to write articles that are actually correct, your readers are technically savvy enough to notice, and complain vocally. I’m sorry that some of those complaints seem to have involved threats.

  11. I’m perfectly happy with the content on Hack-a-day lately. If something doesn’t interest me I skip over it. If I have something positive to add I comment, if I don’t I keep my mouth shut. I don’t really understand the whining. I learn something every day from HAD, even when it’s an article about something I already know. Heck, sometimes even the ads are helpful.

    Thanks for doing what you do!

  12. I always have the feeling i am missing something on this site. It is very minimalistic and that is a good thing. Its very hard to get distracted from reading the posts ;-) Its just that you expect that there is more. I am really missing a good browsing system. tags just dont do it. Sometimes you dont want to search but browse…..

    I would in any circumstance keep the name hackaday..
    i hate it when websites change their name..

  13. I don’t like the links to a post on instructable, if I wanted to be on that site I would be. The adds with sound are a bit much on the homepage, but most of the post pages are cleaner. I like most of the build logs/non hack articles. It’s easy to skip something if it’s not for you. I think halloween should have a category year round. If it turns into the instuctable site I’ll be leaving.

  14. I love this website. It helped rewire my state of thinking and being. I no longer just look at or use anything as what it’s intended to be used for but to use anything to it’s fullest potential.

  15. I strongly support the idea, I’ve been reading for years, and even with a ton of searching, have never been able to find a resource for learning how to start that’s not either written for the completely ignorant (grade school) or the completely knowledgable (bachelors in EE). I’m stuck with ideas in my head and nowhere to put them. Not so sure about the ‘top x’ posts, but a tutorial dev series from HaD are right what I need.
    And, if they can attract a slightly larger (not even much wider) audience and make some $ at it so it can stay running, I’m sure not going to bitch about posts I can just ignore!

  16. As the Editor in Chief of Thebestcasescenario.com I would like to see more PC hacks on HaD. They are not simple little fan additions or adding windows to hard drives anymore. We have a guy who is building a louvered vent system that will open and close based on the PC’s internal ambient temperature, another who is building a complete dual loop water cooling control center from an arduino. PC Modding is hacking at its core. They take a product that does not function the way they want it to, and hack it so it does. A while back one of the HaD post stated that HaD does not post case mods. Yet we see file cabinet servers, duct tape servers and the like. Those are case mods.

    I personally think HaD is the perfect place to offer up tutorials and expand on to more tech related things. Communities like HaD and the one I manage have to expand to keep up with the changing times. There was one point where we only posted case modding articles on our front page. When we added a reviews section our front page traffic increased drastically. So what ever you decide to do I will remain a loyal reader and will continue to support you guys in any way possible.

  17. HaD has always been a great read and the random juxtaposed nature of the hacks is half it’s charm.

    That being said it does have the potential to become an amazing reference point for all that the term Hack encompasses.

    Growth will require organisation, categorization and order.

    I will probably no longer choose to read that obscure post about something I have no interest in even though they are sometimes my favorite posts.

    HaD is more a celebration of the cleaver idea than the specific practicalities – I hope this remains.

    Hopefully you’ll be able to pull this trick off and still provide me with an eclectic stream of innovation and ingenuity.

    What ever happens congrats on what you’ve created to date.

  18. First I just want to say that I’ve been reading HaD for a couple of years now and I love it. I love the content, the community and the overall spirit of ‘hacking’.

    I don’t think that “The Top 25 X”, “10 Ways to Y” or any kind of mass reviews or suggestions belong here, keep that on engadget.

    Keep the quality of each post high and we’ll keep enjoying HaD.

    —-
    Tecy

  19. I have to agree with Tecy, I too have been just browsing this site for a while now, and loved all different things that people have come up with and had posted.
    I do think that that would be pretty cool to have such things as “how to’s” on the website. Just thought I’d put my two cents in.

  20. As long as the spirit of what you do here stays what it is I don’t think you can make any serious mistake. Go with your gut, its what created this badassedness in the first place. Rock on.

  21. Keep posting hacks – things where people have modified hardware and software to perform tasks not originally intended. The Internet is full of random people doing fun things with their technology. When you find one, how about doing a short interview. It’d be more interesting to read than a bunch of photos, youtube video and paragraph of text.

    Don’t post “life hacks” or software reviews. I’m quite capable of evaluating my own Twitter clients and “top 10 xxx” posts are cheap ways to fill a blog with content. If I want to read that kind of stuff I can go to Engadet,Gizmodo, Lifehacker or any of the other blogs you’ve mentioned.

    If you need to create filler content, write interesting articles about “classic” hacks and people.

  22. First time comment.
    I’ve RSS’d to this site for a year or two now and enjoy a lot of the content.

    I love to dive hands first into weekend projects and some of these things featured here are exactly what I’d like to try. Unfortunately some(if not most) of the posts I find interesting, provide little or no guidance for a person like me with plenty of want but not a whole lot of experience.

    Expanding to include a deeper resource for the people like me would be nothing short of amazing and would go much appreciated with many more hits to the how-to’s and all the google ads i can stomach.

    Cheers,
    Adam

  23. Right now you fulfill a unique niche some where in between lifehacker/ gizmodo and the many DIY/How to sites out there. I like what you do and the way you do it. Yes there are ways you could enhance the site; keep answers going (I’ve seen a decrease). Maybe “live blog” some projects as opposed to posting the final products. I like the idea of “hack anything”; get more hacks yes! change the tone of the site NO!

  24. I agree that HaD should expand its horizons, but they should still be hacks. Top Twitter clients is not a HACK, it’s ADVICE that belongs on Engadget or something else. Now if you told us how to hack a twitter client onto a Chumby (or something like that), that would be relevant.

    In short – keep up the great posts, expand, but keep everything related to hacks.

  25. I think a top 10 or top 25 hack would be cool… based on voting maybe. just a thought.
    another thing, users need to be a little understanding, ie,. the “Not a hack”, crap. I know its hard to find HAD worthy material. and its us hackers that need to provided the content so get hacking people!

  26. First off, I love this site. I check it multiple times a week to see what’s new (In fact I use this site more than I use facebook, twitter, and MSN combined!).

    I would love to see Hackaday expand but, I wouldn’t want to see the classics lost as a result.

    Keep up the great work.

  27. Personally I love the idea.

    As for the negative feedback; maybe it’s because there are images for links instead of the green text that calms our desire to upgrade our lolcats for a moment and read about others goings on.

  28. Go for the expansion.

    As stated above, as long as the original theme is not diminished I think it will be beneficial to the growth of HAD.

  29. I love HaD and read it daily. I have no problem with broad content (it’s easy to skip things that aren’t interesting) as long as the focus remains on hacks and making. General app reviews and similar are fine once in a while but tend to become more and more common if one is not careful. There are other sites for that.

    I would like to see more tutorial posts, especially in the intermediate-advanced range. There are plenty of places to read about the basics; several fora with purely advanced material; but not many places that give guidance and links that can help one develop new skills and move from moderately knowledgeable to an advanced level.

    Thanks for a great site.

  30. i think this site should be more like indestructibles and have more step by step guides and tutorials (tho without the the premium/moneymoneymoeny crap)

  31. I think the problem is HaD is now just an aggregator of random postings. When I first started reading everything posted was an in-depth hack/how-to and was good to read. Not the post of the site, that was just a lead-in, but the linked articles. I think the problem is the quality of articles outside the site, or the lack of finding quality articles.

    And maybe, at the end of the day, it’s the commercial pressures that apparently don’t exist that are causing the problem. The owner wants the site to expand, but I can’t see that happening naturally the route that has been prescribed – software reviews? Forum, yes, so people can discuss. How-to’s – sure. Feature articles to get people started in an area – sure. But somehow it just doesn’t cut the mustard any more. Maybe I’ve out-grown it. Maybe the lack of “progress” that so upsets the owner is what I like. It’s not a sell-out instructables type nonsense site full of half-useless tat created by people in a blue-peter-esque way with sticky back plastic and blue card.

    The problem, as I see it, is lack of quality contributions. The staff are posting what they see fit. In order to keep up with demand some of it is a bit questionable, now the questions are raised some more fields are added to increase the post count and target audience, only the existing audience is still wondering where the quality is, no what other fields they should be looking at.

    The front-page, wordpress nature of the site (good god, there are better solutions, surely) is not really suited to a variety of fields. It no-longer feels like it is about a bunch of knowledgeable people about things of interest, but anything found to fill a space, and the layout means its all just dumped there for all to see, like it or not.

    Pah, not sure where I’m going with it. If I’m so genius why don’t I start hackitall.com eh. dunno.

    Yours, confused

  32. Expanding coverage is fine. Hopefully readers here are capable of figuring out how the Mouse Scroll Wheel works.

    Just keep two things in mind.

    Quality over Quantity. That first article on Android was sheer trash. Check your facts, have a “qualities standard” policy in place, and for sake, keep the Apple fanboys off your staff.

    Don’t become a link aggregate site (like Digg). Everyone here already knows about Instructables and LifeHacker, etc – so don’t just repost their dribble.

  33. Totally agree with Piku, hacks of any sort are good but reviews, 10 best whatevers and rumours are best left to the “filler” blogs

  34. ive been reading hackaday since 6 months after it went live, nearly everyday . most of my projects started cause of hack a day my projector cnc mill direct ignition potato cannon flame thrower …just to name a few and a couple were posted here on hackaday … my only suggestion would be add a like dislike button then you can browse by popularity or by date of publish i agree with most if there are multiple post everyday and a least one catches my eye im happy i don’t expect a mind blowing hack everyday oh and i like finding the occasional intractable if its a quality one and on topic (no knitting ipod cozies )

    i never would have found that site if it weren’t for hackaday

    hackaday is its own subculture and you can’t make 100% of the people 100% happy 100% of the time

  35. “HaD is not Engadget, Digg, Gizmodo, or any of those other sites! Keep it that way!” – Anon
    “It is very minimalistic and that is a good thing. (…) I am really missing a good browsing system. tags just dont do it.” – Remarknl
    And HAD is not Instructables, HowStuffWorks and Makezine! It’s hardcore!
    I come here to look a f*cking Russian make a RADAR on his garage!
    I love the straight design: Title, picture and text. Fast browsing.
    You should make a census to learn more about your visitors. Fast questions like: “You work with software/hardware development ?” “Have a degree ?” “How old are you” “If i put a lot of noob reviews about iphone software you will keep visiting HAD?”

    Let’s keep the spirit of HAD alive! [2]

  36. Most of my points have already been made (expansion good(ish), ‘top ten (whatever)s’ bad), really.

    just, keep up the good work.

    @juan cubillo –

    Drop
    —–
    @-moz-document domain(“hackaday.com”)

    {* {text-transform:lowercase !important;}}
    —–
    into Stylish.

  37. @Piku

    Modifying Hardware and Software to work like you want it to is the definition of hacking. Building things from scratch or a bunch of loose parts in your junk box is prototyping.

  38. First time commenter, long time reader.

    I think the biggest issue with the introduction of non-hack articles was just how poorly researched and written the article on Android 3.0 was. Now I don’t have the knowledge to determine if the author was simply (incredibly) ignorant, an Apple fanboy, or just trolling, but I do know it didn’t belong on HaD. While the second controversial article (the one covering Twitter apps) was of much higher quality, it still isn’t a hack and thus doesn’t belong here.

    I understand the need for broadening the user base and if these changes must stick, I would ask for additional RSS feeds that do not list non-hack posts and/or feeds that can omit certain authors.

  39. No.. Keep things pretty much like they are… I can get that “general” hacking/modifying stuff from “Make”. They spool that stuff off by the by the bucket load. My only gripe with Hackaday has been that you guys are very Ardunio slanted.

  40. I have to say that I’d love to see HaD grow to be even bigger and better than ever. However, I agree that this needs to be balanced. I really enjoy the “technical” nature of HaD. To see it turn into something “normal” people can use would mean driving away the technical crowd. Instructables is around for the “normal” crowd. I love HaD and would be very sad to see it migrate away from the technical nature that makes it unique.

  41. I’ve been reading hackaday since the beginning, If I recall correctly I was linked here from a site called “case mod god”. This was back when the modding scene was unheard of and the real mods where adding 8 leds and a cmos controller to hps and dells (i miss the days before pre-mod cases!) I love this page and I’m sure it can only get better with time.

  42. I totally agree with you Jason. I think this site could go so much further.

    It would be a shame to lose the classic, so possible maintain classic.hackaday.com, or some other variation, but a new site, with slightly less darkness would be great! :-)

  43. i would like to point out that DIY is so fashionable now that many other sources, be it news sites or blogs or zines or whatever, are starting to develop their own outlets and posts and pages for the kind of home-brew electronics hacks/projects that HaD posts.

    a few years ago BA (before arduino) it was mostly only EE/compsci/radio guys who were brave enough to enter the realm of hardware hacking. and HaD is where everyone came to see all the cool new stuff. these days that kind of hacking is available in a tech segment on CNN and an article in popular science and a billion places on the web.

    my point: don’t let HaD blend in with the crowd too much, where more and more people and institutions are getting in on the DIY action.

  44. I have been following this site for less than a year now. I am not a hacker but I find this site to be awesome. So much so that it is now my home page. I don’t know how to build or alter circuits and I don’t know how to write code but I appreciate those on your site who do. They are truely amazing people with remarkable skills. While I admit that I am somewhat technically challenged, your site inspires me to want to learn. I enjoy reading most of what your site has to offer. I am the kind od person that loves to take apart things and imagine what cuold be built form the parts. With enough Hack-A-Day inspiration, I hope to one day build my own hack or at least perform one of the many how to’s that you offer. I appreciate having a place to go where I can discover how to do things and ask questions if I need to. Keep doing what your doing and I’ll be a very happy potential hacker.

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