QR codes for satellites and mineral oil baths for servers: Facebook’s top hacks

Facebook QR code

As the year closes, the lists of the best insert-word-here and 2013 prediction posts keep rolling in, but Facebook has a fun one. It has revealed its “top hacks” generated from the company’s storied hackathons, the all-night coding bonanzas where the only rule is you can’t work on your “day job”. Some are silly geek jokes, like the QR code painted on the roof of its new HQ in Menlo Park, Calif., while others involve materials like mineral oil and Arduino boards.

The Facebook blog post is here, and details all the hacks, which make for fun reading. But what I thought was especially worthwhile was that in at least two cases the hacks resulted in a real product that was later rolled out to users, such as the new full screen photo view or the improved events calendar. Others like putting hot servers in mineral oil to dissipate heat or building a light-up dash board using an Arduino board and a connection to Facebook’s spam monitoring service are already in use elsewhere, but could still benefit the company down the line.

Facebook's map of where football fans live.

Facebook’s map of where football fans live.

I don’t know what percent of Facebook’s hack projects result in real-world improvements to its product or to the backend infrastructure, but in this batch four out of the top eight fell into that category, which seems to indicate that the hacker way Facebook’s CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg preaches is still in effect. And I especially liked how three of the projects dealt with data visualization, with two of those taking the visualizations into the real world: one by printing a 3-D globe that showed Facebook usage in the world using three different topographical details and the aforementioned light-up message board for visualizing spam alerts.

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