For the last few years, we’ve made a point of setting aside two working days every few months for internal hackathons, where anyone within the company can form a team to work on and present an new idea for a product or feature. We call these informal hackathons “Paloozas”. Some of our best ideas and most innovative products have sprung from these creative interludes — you can read more about these ideas and a past Palooza here.
We’ve decided to double down on this tradition of bottom-up innovation with three changes:
Instead of limiting efforts to only the two hackathon days, we’ve instituted a more general 20% time policy, meaning that anyone can choose to dedicate some of their ongoing work hours to a 20% time project. This is in addition to the two days set aside for the hackathon and presentations.
We’ve built and released an internal web application which allows employees to pitch their ideas with a project home page, list the types of collaborators they feel they need (for example, one graphic designer, two frontend engineers, etc.) and recruit co-workers who commit to work with them, in a model similar to popular crowdfunding sites.
Finally, we’ve increased the frequency of the hackathons to a strict schedule of once every two months. Previously the scheduling was ad-hoc, but we now have a frequent standing forum for project presentations of the ongoing 20% time development.
Our October Palooza was the first experiment with the new structure. It allowed us to explore some great new ideas, including a way to easily localize our mobile applications, a better way to handle bencoding in our clients, a couple of clever hacks and extensions of an existing skunkworks project, and “Token Unlock”, a way to enable artists to give their fans one-time-use unlock codes for BitTorrent Bundles.
When the votes were tallied within our new web application, Token Unlock was crowned the winner of this Palooza. Of the other projects, two are completed and ready to ship and one will live on as an ongoing 20% time project.
We’re still in the early stages of the experiment with this new format and new tools, but the results so far are quite promising.