Showtime for Yahoo Hacks

And you thought Yahoo! wasn’t a tech company? Just a warmed-over old-media company?

Maybe there’s some truth there, but it’s not the whole story. There are still a lot of hard-core techies at the company. Nowhere is that more apparent than at the quarterly Hack Days where engineers and designers spend 24 hours coding up prototypes of cool features—sort of like “getting high with your friends and jamming in a garage,” as Bradley Horowitz, VP of Yahoo’s Advanced Development Division, pithily puts it. Still, the hope is that their creations can make it to the Show—a new Yahoo service.

Tonight, Yahoo’s trotting out a couple of interesting examples. One is MapMixer, which lets you upload a detailed map—say, a map of your favorite hiking trails in Yosemite—and overlay it atop a Yahoo Map (as pictured in that screenshot). The result, says Yahoo software engineer Nimit Maru, who created it, is to produce a hybrid that’s a better, more comprehensive map. Other users also will be able to vote on which map of a particular area is the best one.

The other feature is Shop by Color, which allows people to choose apparel colors from a 56-color palette and search for clothes just in that color, or something close to it, no matter what strange name (say, “beach grass”) the manufacturer may give it. Created by Hayro Kolukisaoglu and Sundeep Tirumalareddy, the service will be part of Yahoo! Shopping’s “narrow your results” function.

By themselves, of course, these relatively incremental services won’t help Yahoo much in its long battle to restore its growth and relevance. Nor do they prove that it can catch up to Google’s tech prowess. I’m not sure I completely buy into Horowitz’s contention that innovation at Yahoo is easier now because “when you’re in a period of questioning everything, it’s a time of great opportunity.” But it’s evident that the entire place didn’t go Hollywood under former CEO Terry Semel. And that’s gotta be a good thing.

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