Happy 13th Hackaday @hackaday by @ptorrone with @eliot @calebkraft @szczys

hackaday turns 13

13 years ago, on September 5th, 2004, I published the first post on a new site called Hackaday.com (RADIOSHACK PHONE DIALER – RED BOX).

I wanted to create a cool place online and beyond for hackers! So I designed the logo which is still used (The Jolly Wrencher) and presented some other ways a “blog” looked, or could look. At the time, black and white photos with sticky tape holding them to the page, lower-case text, hackery identity and look/feel, a publishing schedule for the “a-day’ format, all these were counter-intuitive at the time. Hackaday was founded as a place to share projects and inspire others, to uplift each other “skateboarding-style”. In other words, we’re all at the skatepark doing tricks together, building off each other, sharing techniques, and celebrating successes and mistakes.

There was also a ‘Hackaday roadmap’ for the a decade, and most it (if not all of it!) happened.  Even without me needing to do it, which is exactly what I had hoped for. Thank you past and current team that is taking care, and took care, of our little skull kid.

Usually the Hackaday anniversary/events are in October each year, I use September 5th since it’s the first post day. (Either is totally OK, events are a little easier in October than the first week of September with Burningman, back to school time, Labor day weekend holidays, etc). The announcement post for the new ‘gadget hack website’ was posted on October 7, 2004 on Engadget.

After Hackaday was founded and it had picked up speed, I started working with MAKE Magazine as the Senior Editor for all things online for MAKE (it was not called MAKE yet when I started). I was still the contributing editor for Popular Science, and worked on the HOW 2.0 section (which at the time, rebooted Popular Science back in the maker/DIY world). I was wrapping up post-career stuff at Fallon, and still was doing a little of that too, along with some things for 2600 Hacker Quarterly and Howtoons. At MAKE, I worked on MAKE’s site, blog, videos, forums, AIM bots’, online authoring/management of teams, MAKE store (later called Maker Shed), social media, digital offerings & metrics and events like Maker Faire.

Hackaday was part of the Engadget family. I was the second editor/author at Engadget, and started the Engadget Podcast. We had sorta-spun-off Hackaday from the “How-to Tuesdays” since those became really popular! People like gadgets and, we learned, they often like to take apart gadgets and hack those gadgets. The Hackaday site (and Engadget sites/Weblogs Inc.) were part of a blog network that was later sold to AOL for an estimated $30m. That is, all except Hackaday. From what I was told, AOL didn’t want anything with the word “hack” so they left that out in the sale. (I had handed off Hackaday before the AOL sale)

Post AOL-purchase of the sites (besides Hackaday), Hackaday was, for awhile, part of Jason Calacanis’s personal blog portfolio post-sale – he had owned Webblogs Inc. Jason kept Hackaday going since it wasn’t part of AOL, and there were some attempts to combine it with Jason’s other efforts (Mahalo) but Hackaday mostly remained on its own and independent.

In 2013 Jason announced he was selling Hackaday, and it was purchased by SupplyFrame (SupplyFrame also purchased Tindie.com a online shopping site for hackers and modders to sell their wares).

Hackaday is now 13 years old (a real teenager) which is a pretty long time for a website! I wanted to see what the past and current editors from Hackaday thought about the last 13 years and what they’re most proud of. So I do what I usually do, I send an email – here are their responses, and here is what I asked. Thank you Eliot, Caleb, and Mike!

  1. Article you published/blog post you’re most proud of (URL) and why.
  2. Person you’d like to (have) interviewed for the site (can be alive, dead, etc).
  3. Advice to anyone who wants to get their project featured on the site.
  4. What is something you’d like to see the site do in the next 13 years?
  5. (Question for Mike, current Editor in Chief – how has being part of a company, SupplyFrame, helped Hackaday?)


Article you published/blog post you’re most proud of (URL) and why
http://cq.cx/prox.pl The very first post I put up on Hackaday was about Jonathan Westhues work spoofing proximity cards. It’s an exemplary project starting with minimal knowledge and scratch building a functional device. It was a three year old project at the time but new to the audience. Four years later we had the do all Proxmark3 RFID cloner. Five years after that it was the LayerOne 2014 conference badge (https://hackaday.io/project/27-layerone-2014-conference-badge). It was a classic example of one curious individual unlocking some hidden knowledge and then making is accessible to everyone to build on.

Advice to anyone who wants to get their project featured on the site
A good project is a documented project. Don’t expect to do the writeup after you’re done; start taking photos and notes from day one. The reader wants to know how you reached your decisions and trouble you had along the way. We’ve all seen super polished projects with no insight into how they really truly work; leave that crap for the gadget blogs. And after you get featured take in the comments and maybe even find a collaborator and expand on what you’re doing. Some of the best work happens when you find ways to reach out of your comfort zone.

What is something you’d like to see the site do in the next 13 years?
Hackaday has made great leaps in building a diverse and inclusive audience over the last few years and I am sure this will continue. Their excellent SuperConference series shows their ability to identify the problems with many hackercons and fix them while maintaining a unique voice. I’m sure this outreach and positive community building will continue going forward making it easier for individuals to get into the hobby and form their own communities as well.


Article you published/blog post you’re most proud of (URL) and why
I can’t think of any single blog post that I’m most proud of. I’m more proud of the initiative to promote the community. During my time, I decided that we would publish any hackerspace tour or introduction that people sent us (as long as it wasn’t offensive etc). We were there to service the community and even though I knew these wouldn’t be groundbreaking headlines, I felt it was a way to use the platform for the benefit of the readers.

Along with this, I’m least proud that it took me a couple years to finally do this http://hackaday.com/2011/07/27/hackaday-comment-policy-were-cleaning-up/

Person you’d like to (have) interviewed for the site (can be alive, dead, etc)
I’m not big on interviews. I don’t really ever think “I’d really like to read an interview from this person”, so I’m really drawing a blank here.

Advice to anyone who wants to get their project featured on the site
Make your submission short and your project easy to comprehend. I don’t want to read 4 pages and still not be clear on what you built.

What is something you’d like to see the site do in the next 13 years?
I’d love to see more goofy little challenges involving hacking hardware. the Hackaday Prize is great and all, but I’d like to see what a bunch of bored engineers do with an inkjet printer just for fun.


Article you published/blog post you’re most proud of (URL) and why
Oof, I’ve published thousands of articles, it’s hard to nail down a top one. But thinking back recently there are two types of articles that come to mind. I really enjoy doing interviews with interesting people and earlier in the year I sat down with Nacer Chahat to talk about antenna design at JPL. Back in 2015 I was reading The Martian and stumbled on a very interesting piece of trivia regarding navigating by the stars. That took my down a rabbit hole that resulted in an article on how important it was to develop precise clocks for sailing that wouldn’t be affected by the rocking of the ship. That type of writing is so fun because new concepts just keep opening up as you pull that initial thread.

Person you’d like to (have) interviewed for the site (can be alive, dead, etc)
Anyone who was involved with engineering for the space race. That period of human history saw unbelievable tech developments on what feels like an impossible timeline. It’s a real delight to see some stories out of that time like reading how Margaret Hamilton bootstrapped the firmware (software?) team, which I learned about when she was awarded the Medal of Freedom last year, and seeing the more recent story of Don Eckles showing up to a party with a printout of the Lunar Module software. With the hardware we get to see teardowns of actual equipment from time to time (think of some of Fran Blanche’s stuff) but that’s only a part of the story and the software tales are fading away as the people who met those challenges age. We need to capture, preserve, and celebrate the accomplishments which are both amazing and a powerful tool to inspire the next generation of engineering superheros.
Fascinating article on her time with NASA over on Wired: https://www.wired.com/2015/10/margaret-hamilton-nasa-apollo/

Advice to anyone who wants to get their project featured on the site
Be excited about it. I think far too many people fail to tell us about (or even to document) projects because they think they haven’t accomplished enough compared to other work we see featured. I’m just as excited about the first time a person gets a larson scanner up and running as I was the first time I did it. The personal discovery and story of how they pulled the build together is really the soul of Hackaday.

What is something you’d like to see the site do in the next 13 years?
Take over the world 😉 My general view is that technology is being almost universally adopted as a daily (even moment to moment) influence in our lives and yet the vast majority of people have no idea how smartphones, wireless communications, and huge data networks are created and run. This is dangerous. In the next 13 years I want to see Hackaday continue to trumpet the message that learning about electronics, computer systems, breaking, building, and fixing things is fun, normal, and something to aspire to.

How has being part of a company, SupplyFrame, helped Hackaday?
Supplyframe took over stewardship of Hackaday in 2013 and has been an amazing force for supporting and growing our community. On the editorial side we have a budget to support more writers working on a wider range of content. They made it possible to bring on Joe Kim as our art director which has been amazing. From the very beginning Supplyframe made live events a priority and quickly went far beyond that, building the framework for our community site, Hackaday.io. We saw an influx of people who wanted to interact with each other as they work on builds and honed new skills and now we’re just about to pass 250,000 registered users. While all of this was happening we launched the Hackaday Prize which is in it’s fourth year now, challenging people to use some of their time and talent to develop things that help make a difference in people’s lives. This November will mark the third year of the Hackaday Superconference — the ultimate hardware conference which showcases talks and workshops from people all over the world who are building amazing hardware. Tindie — a site to buy and sell cutting edge and unique electronics — became part of the Hackaday family in 2015 and is enjoying huge success having see original hardware creators just list the 10,000th product on the site. I could go on, but the gist of the story is that Supplyframe made this community growth possible, but also made the existence and success of the community a priority and that’s pretty amazing.

As part of the experiment which was and is Hackaday, for this article I’m experimenting with Discord, a chat app, So head over to the Discord about Hackaday turning 13!, post up your questions & comments there and I’ll do some type of text/Hackchat in the next month too about the history of Hackaday and cool things we can do together for the next 10 years wherever our hacks may be. Embedded chat is here:

Happy Hacking.

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