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. I’ve never been a commenter on the HaD posts, so this is a first.

    I have to say, I’m a loyal Hack-A-Day reader, regardless of what is posted. Honestly, the more the merrier (up to a point). A lot of the posts are above my head (for now), so it’s great to see a post that piques my interest (… like the recent halogen bulb alarm clock!) and that I know I can pull off.

    My TI LaunchPad arrived today and I just opened it and started playing around with it. Where did I hear about it? Hack-A-Day.

    If people don’t like the site, they can shut it and leave. I, along with other loyal Hack-a-Day readers, will certainly remain.


  2. I have been an off-and-on HAD reader for a few years now. I feel that the focus has shifted over the past year or so with the increased number of “hacks” per day. As a EE, I have found the site to be of interest because of the various in-depth hacks you highlight. I do not care to see the basic hardware how-tos, and despise arduino (as a shotgun when a pistol is needed) but understand the value it may offer some readers. What I hate about what this site has grown into lately is the growth in the basic material at the expense of the “good stuff” (imho). There’s a lot more chaff these days which I skip past.

    If I were redesigning the site I would split it by the level of hacker – easy, hard, impossible. Easy would cover your intro “howto” topics, hard would cover things which require introductory-level skill to accomplish (perhaps welding, or programming, etc.), and impossible might detail things which require specialized and relatively expensive hardware to replicate. I would probably follow an RSS link of the hard and impossible levels, and might occasionally check out the easy level (I don’t know everything, after all, despite how I may sound).

    If the site becomes “how to use gmail”, or a set of cosmo-style top ten lists, I’m out of here. There have to be other decent diy-hacking sites out there, I just haven’t bothered looking because I liked it here. Not a hater, change happens, sometimes it’s not the change I want to see but it’s not my website.

  3. I love the hacks, tool reviews (bus pirate and dso nano and such), and sheer insanity that comes along with such a site. That being said, if I want to read reviews about apps and such like that, that have non-cheap/free hardware associated (apple, for instance), I’d rather not. Then again, I tend to skim over such posts and go for the meaty ones. I wouldn’t object to the beefier and more extreme PC mods, but I would object to generic case type mods. I want to see new things being done, not the same old crap I see everywhere else. I’d still like to see more useful things to do with old CRTs. :\ but yea. Love the site. :3

  4. I was drawn to this site by the number of hardware hacks covered – a topic seldom seen anywhere else. Even when they are well beyond my abilities and resources I often find them inspirational, and a great wealth of knowledge and tips.

    I like the theme of “Hack Everything” – I’d be quite happy to see hacks of any kind as long as they’re good, hardcore hacks not adequately covered elsewhere. I would be saddened to see HAD move towards a Lifehacker “Top 5 Nose Pickers for your iPhone” format.

  5. As for me, the content here is perfect, even those that get 50 comments that say “not a hack” are usually good reads, worst case I just scroll down a little farther to find what I want.

  6. Thanks for the post, Jason. I think it’s a great idea to keep the community in the loop.

    I agree with what Caleb said earlier, I too think that Hackaday should be more of a resource for people to use rather than just another tech blog. With so many tech blogs publishing the same kind of content, we believe that it’s extremely important that we continue to stand out from the pack when it comes to content. That being said, we can’t disqualify content just because it’s something that we haven’t done before. I share Caleb’s excitement about the Android Development series that was recently published, I think it’s a great example of the kind of stuff that we want to see posted in addition to our classic hacks.

    Change can be a tough and frustrating thing sometimes. I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that we’ve been frustrated with how we’ve handled certain things recently. However, I know that we’re all looking forward to working with you, the community, to make Hackaday the best it can be.

    Have an idea for something new you’d like to see on Hackaday? Feel free to email the tip line or me personally at nick@hackaday.com, and we’ll be sure to consider it.

    Thanks for your continued support, and be sure to let us know if you have any ideas!

  7. I’ve been lurking here for almost 2 years now and I’m in the same boat as James Faris (above). I am looking forward to learning and love the odd content that comes across the feed. Now that I have time and and a job, I hope to start on some of the ideas that I’ve seen and others that I’ve thought of and I think the vision you have for the site is exactly what I would need.

    Thanks for the site

  8. I haven’t noticed anything wrong with HaD besides a slow increase of daft users, common to any growing community.

    Hopwfully we never reach the ‘Eternal September’ state :)

  9. I personally think that maybe hackaday needs a front page:

    Hardware Hacks
    Software Hacks
    Reviews etc – if they are going to stay
    How To’s

    And a seperate RSS feed for each. I don’t think it would be much of an inconvenience to people to click on a link to reach the type of hacks they are looking for. Then people can change their hackaday links to the hardare page (rather than complaining about all the software stuff in with it) and other people can view what they chose. Then hackaday can go on as it previously was with a few extra bytes of front page.


  10. Any reason why Virgin Media is blocking hackaday as adult content? I lost my primary net connection the other day and got my trusty 3g dongle out only to find hackaday listed as adult content. Any background on why this is so? BTW, Keep up the good work. I visit hackaday at least once a day, every day im near a computer. Always a good read.

  11. I am glad this is finally being addressed from the top level. The relative history of hackaday has always been unknown by most readers but it says a lot about why the site is the way it is.

    I think these ideas are good for the most part. I would like to see the readership and interest expand so having more general posts is probably the way to go, as much as they often turn me off (esp those of the “top X Y” variety). I can live with the noise.

    My suggestion:

    Maybe the writers should just commit to at least one post a day that you can really get behind as a ‘hack’ and then have a special category for that which can be filtered. Then it can still technically be called hackaday.

    To find an interesting and new hack EVERY day is not trivial. The hackers in the crowd need to step up either hacking or documenting their hacks.

    If you need more technical stimulation I would suggest subscribing to journals in your field. I am a software engineer and I really enjoy reading ACM journals but I am sure IEEE has a number of equivalents.

  12. Peter – It’s due to the word “Hack”. Phone your provider and ask them to take the adult block off. I’m with Orange and had to get them t do that….purely for research purposes of course….ahem…

  13. I have been going to this site almost every day since the first week it started almost 6 years ago. I have had no issues with any changes that have been made to the site. When the posts started to become more frequent it was frustrating catching up, but I adapted and subscribed to the RSS feed so that I could follow the posts up to the minute. The change was great. Now I think it’s time for us to adapt again. If you don’t like the article they post, then skip it. I’m sure you will get at least one other in the same day that will fit your fancy.

  14. While I do not really like the super light “hacks” they just don’t bother me. Everybody has things they like and do not. For the most part I like what HAD does and enjoy it.
    No you do not have to create your own IBM 360 CPU from ttl chips and baling wire to qualify.
    The best Google Twitter apps? Seen that too many times to count but it may be useful to someone.
    I vote just keep it as it has been but I will say that some of the software “Android” posts are in my opinion just not good posts.
    They lacked both depth and accuracy. Lack of depth is a matter of opinion but the lack of accuracy just isn’t good.

  15. I’ve followed this site as one of my top daily reads for years and years and years.

    I am pretty critical overall. I would love to submit every little thing I try, but I have something going on 80+ hours a week so it’s not really an option.

    I used to love this site. It used to be hardware hacks at a relatively steady pace with good quality writeups and how-tos. Now it seems it’s an everyone-in forum for people to post the latest Arduino sketches and their favorite stuff from around the internet. This site has gradually been sacrificing quality for quantity.

    I think that some people want to shout “Look at my hack” when all they’ve done is plugged in a few wires from a pre-made system. If I buy an LED-POV kit and build it, is that a hack?

    I don’t consider that accomplishing anything, anymore than I would if I bought a lego kit and built it according to the instructions. That’s not what I thought this site was, and in fact not what it was when I started reading.

    Answers was a great step, and is where things like the “Top ___ twitter clients for android” belong, or “Tweeting Arduino ___ system”. They do not belong on the normal feed at all.

    Other than a few new faces on the feed which seem entirely leaning toward these pre-made systems instead of home-built hacks that require some real effort, I think the site is fine. But please don’t expect me to go read an article about a hack expecting something interesting, and not say anything when it’s a garbage list of Arduino pieces that were stitched together.

    I am in favor of your clarification of the feeds, and the expansion into “hacking anything”, but I think it is very important to point out that hacking involves making something do something it wasn’t necessarily intended to do, or even something it WAS intended to do but in a strange or innovative way. This does not encompass “My favorite web browsers” or anything of that sort.

  16. Hey there. Jason, I’m just posting in to say that I’ve been a long-time reader on a daily basis (4+ years actually) and I wouldn’t mind the execution of your idea. Might give me a bit more inspiration and knowledge as well. I’d say, keep it up and innovate :D

  17. I, for one, miss seeing ONE good hack per DAY. I’m down with having all the different flavors of hacks on this site. I rather like the idea of having one location for all that is hack related. But, if you want to expand, in that way, let’s section it up instead of throwing every little thing on the front page just because it’s remotely related to hacking. All that misc content tends to burry the good hacks! You don’t want viewers to miss out on the good stuff, do you? I mean, it’s getting to the point that that there is so much “junk” flying up on the front page so fast that this hackaday sometimes appears to be “parked”. One good hack per day on the front page has always been great and it would be nice to see again. Then, allow us to dig deeper and click around if we choose. You could even flag the other areas when there is new content, leaving “today’s hack” on the front page for the day. I am a fan of the “how-to”s, “reviews”, “guides” etc. Make more of those, if need be. Just leave the days hack on the top of the front page for the day. It’s hard for a contributor to get as excited as they used to, knowing their hack will only top the hackaday list for a few hours. The way I see it, it’s not a matter of going one way or the other.. should we or shouldn’t we… I say, do it all! Just, keep it organized and simple. Flooding the front page with futile content isn’t working. It only frustrates us all. Every other site out there overwhelms us with useless stuff, forcing us to sift through it all to find worthwhile content. One good hack per day made this site king. Think about it…

  18. Having read through the (currently) 74 previous comments, I’ll second a couple:

    1) “best ofs” reviews, and “how to use software for what it was intended” are definitely not what I read this site for. I already read engadget, etc. I’ve liked the how-tos for various basic electronic components. But, don’t let this devolve into an Instructables clone.

    2) given the number of entries in various categories, HAD could use a better or additional search function. I’m a pretty determined researcher, so when some h/w or s/w comes my way and I have a dim recollection of a HAD article discussing it, I’ll eventually find it. But, I’d rather not have to work that hard.

  19. I would personally rather see the site get closed. There is just too much garbage on this site that gets posted all the time. Th editors have really let things go and allows anything someone makes even if it wasn’t any kind of a hack. So yes, I’d rather see the site no longer exist.

  20. @M4CGYV3R
    But what is a good enough hack?
    Let me tell you of some projects I was thinking of doing.
    I was thinking of combining a DSP or Gummstix with a 900Mhz Zigbee to create Zigbee based digital voice radio. I would use Speex for the codec. I was also thinking that if I used a Gumstix I could make it a Motocycle communications/entertainment system with a voice command interface.
    Yes it would be heavy in the software category but would it be good enough for you to be on Hack a Day?

    What about a UAV that could land it’s self?
    Just how hard does a hack have to be to be interesting?

  21. I fell in love with this site the first time I saw it. I don’t do much hardware hacking myself but sometimes this site inspires me to try something new and to open up my ipod (or whatever hardware I have) and try to change something or just to learn what the insides of it look like. This is what I think the site is all about. Inspiring. I have loved the wau you’ve done everything so far but if you change that up a little I won’t really mind. As long as the spirit is the same!

    Thanks for making hackaday one of my favorite sites!

  22. I’d really love to see more hardcore hacks on here, and not every small engineering project that’s floating around the web, which it kinda seems to be lately.

    Your examples of ripping DVR’s apart, hacking hardware, or kitbashing an iPhone into a dashboard, YES! That stuff! Making a server case out of duct-tape? Why would that make it to HACK-a-day? Just lack of anything else to post?

    Just my 2 cents.

  23. I’d like to second what mowcius said, or instead, hack together another way to filter the content. Then keep each category high quality while still having a decent overall quantity for those who want to see it all.

  24. and, in response to Charles Gantt’s post regarding case mods, I agree with the current policy.

    Regarding his examples: the Ikea cabinet cluster was foremost a cluster, and repurposing a cheap cab to mount it was one of the cost savings measures used to assemble it.

    The duct tape case was obviously a case of “case mod”, but it was also an example of the utterly unexpected use of a non-structural material to create a structure… something I’d expect to see in HAD or Make.

    There are hundreds of interesting case mods I’ve seen on-line. But, the vast majority are not repurposing what a case does: contain a PC. HAD would be overwhelmed by new ways to mount acrylic and neon tubes, I fear.

  25. @osgeld: Ha!

    Look, I started reading Hackaday because I love to see the projects where a regular person would ask “why?” but a hacker would go “cool, I can use that idea”.

    I also value inclusion. We should be getting people excited about hacking and help to provide beginners with resources. Nobody starts as an elite soldering ninja and if we don’t help beginners there will be no more soldering ninjas.

    But it’s not all about soldering either. I’m interested in any project that uses something as it wasn’t originally intended as long as it’s creative and clever.

    So I do hope to see, and write about, a wider range of hacks. But as [Osgeld] so eloquently pointed out, I want them to be hacks.

  26. Just add a “Hacking Skill” rating (like 0 for things like simple tutorials, and 10 for crazy stuff. ) to every post, and add a Filter Option ( “only show Hacks with skill >= 4” )

  27. It’s been said 20 times before, but a different feed for classic hacks would be great. Even if it’s one hack per week i’d bet most people would still come to this site as long as that one hack has a good writeup and it’s original.

  28. Here is the deal. This site is like show and tell. I can’t find the parts to do some of the hacks. Without instructibles, some of the hacks are useless. If you want Hack A Day to have some shelf life then there has to be instructibles or else I read it and say, “so what” because I don’t have access to all of the plans. In reality, there are probably two or three projects here I like but even more are useless because there isn’t enough information to go attempt.

    #2. I don’t mind people using Arduino but there are other processors out there. When a switch or thermostat can be used and the user decides that only Arduino will do then it becomes tedious.

  29. Just stay with the hacks. I don’t need an article like “How to watch a DVD with a DVD-Player from Walmart”, especialy if that article spans five pages, where usually half a page is more common.

    If I am forced to see any dumb tutorial in my RSS viewer in full length, I’d chunk it out of the window together with all the great stuff posted here every day.

    So, if you want to post stuff noone really needs, go ahead, but do it where it doen’t hurt my eyes.

  30. Please, just keep the site open. It is a valuable “point of knowledge”.
    Without the knowledge sharing offered through the site itself and the members that do a great job sharing the time spent in hacking of any hardware/software/.. one of the founding point of Internet – knowledge sharing – can be lost without repair.
    So thank you Jason for keeping the site out of some “Corporate control”, and I confirm my interest in both your point as a future strategy for the life of HaD. Than if you need some money …. we can study a solution like a “$upport” membership or a little share of your company as partners.
    thank you again – bruno

  31. In general, I like the idea of opening HAD up to the masses. I have no problem at all if the site starts to integrate more “easy” or basic “hacks,” even if they’re more like tips that err on the side of not your typical usage. I could even benefit from them myself given that I hardly ever actually act on the advanced information or ideas that pass by here. The only thing I do want to point out is that, while I don’t personally care if a “classic” feed sticks around (I don’t fear change), I DO want to be assured that AS MUCH of the content being posted is as advanced as it is now. I.E. add all the more basic content you want, and I’ll welcome it with open arms, but I’d still like to see on the order of 30 posts a week (my guestimate at what you post now) about things more complicated than I’ll probably ever play with as a side project. Because it’s those posts that challenge me and give me ideas unlike any other web property that I know, and that make HAD totally unique.

  32. Oh I want to add to my post above: Definitely do what you need to do to make the site profitable or at least self sustaining. Nobody should fault you for that. Just don’t do so at the expense of the uniqueness HAD currently has.

  33. I’ve been reading this site for years and years. I used to be the guy that hacked my stuff, then I grew up and lost my free time.

    Now that I’m getting it back, I’m rusty and things have moved on while my skills have not. I’d love more entry level things to get me back to speed. Maybe a project rating option. People who want to see only harder core can select only that and up. Easy and up can see everything.

    Top 10 lists. Need to be very targetted. Top 10 android needs? No. Top 10 sources for getting a cheap LCD display, much more interesting.

    Thanks for the hacks.

  34. I personally like all of the content on Hackaday, while there is stuff I am not interested in, its not so much that stuff I am interested in gets lost. You can’t please everybody but I think the shotgun approach (throw enough pellets, you’ll hit a little of everybody) works pretty well. Also, it allows me to expand on things I may never have thought I would interested in.

  35. I simply love this site. I don’t want to see it change into something that’s been done a thousand times in other places. That being said, if you have a Jones that you’ve just got to satisfy, why not create a companion site. Reviews, topx lists, and other content that just didn’t make the cut for HaD? Call it the second string, or NotaHack. Call it anything but late for dinner (or Hack a Day). I think we all come here for the hacks. Engineering nerds and tinkerers UNITE!!

  36. Hackaday is a necesarry breeder of ingenuity. Not only by example, but by inspiration. It is imho an essential engine behind economical prowess that is needed to get the US out of the present deep hole the banks and corporations drove it into. Let not ACTA or some patent infringement suit or entangled interest stop this site or limit its freedom to publish hacks. Not because it is cool to steal or rip, but because there is no material damage caused by the educational and creative modification of artifacts that we find in our veryday environment while it does create the engineers of the future.

  37. I’ve been a reader for some time. Apologies for making comparisons, but makezine.com has an excellent blog. HAD’s daily feed is better because the single article really fosters more comments.

    I think you should:

    1. Keep the daily hacks blog somewhere, maybe not the front page.
    2. Expand the mission statement.

    I want more from HAD. But please please please change the color scheme, or put a switch somewhere to let me change it. It really hurts my eyes physically.

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