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Life Hacks are tricks, skills or shortcuts that are meant to increase a person’s productivity or efficiency in their everyday lives.
The term “life hack” was coined by tech journalist Danny O’Brien on October 23rd, 2003 on his blog Oblomovka (shown below), describing his research for an upcoming talk on the subject, which took place during February 2004’s Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego, California. He directed people to a message board seeking suggestions about their personal shortcuts, as well as the names of people he could interview about these hacks. One of the first people mentioned in the conversation was the late Aaron Swartz, who kept a detailed log of his online activity.
Also on October 23rd, 2003, Boing Boing wrote about the project, directing more people to contribute. The talk was held on February 11th, 2004 and shortly after, Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow shared his notes from the panel, which he called “the best session so far” at the conference. During the session, O’Brien spoke of people who take 10 hours to write a script that will save them 11 hours later on because writing them is more interesting than partaking in boring tasks. He also noted the people he spoke with had passions for backing up their data and making RSS feeds out of things they have scraped from the web. O’Brien later teamed up with Merlin Mann of 43 Folders to write life hack articles for Make Magazine, beginning with their first issue in January 2005.
That March, Gina Trapani interviewed O’Brien, calling him the “father of ‘life hacks,’” where he said that his favorite trick was to tell personal trivia to another geek, as geeks can remember all trivia except their own personal facts. The same month, O’Brien and Mann gave another Life Hacks talk at that year’s Emerging Technology Conference, in which they touched on useful apps and keyboard shortcuts. The same month, Leon Ho founded Lifehack.org. On May 4th, 2005, a Flickr pool (shown below) dedicated to life hacks was created, gaining nearly 300 members as of October 2013.
By July 2005, however, a handful of bloggers began to speak out against life hacks, noting that it sometimes meant doing more stuff in order to do less. In October 2005, the culture of life hacking was written about in the New York Times Magazine and that December, “lifehack” was first added to Urban Dictionary. Between 2006 and 2007, life hacks were featured on a number of personal blogs including The Future Place, The Examined Life, A Developer’s Notebook, Black Rim Glasses and Daria Black, making a handful of appearances on mainstream media with articles on TrendHunter and Time Magazine. By 2007, life hack videos began appearing on YouTube, with some notable YouTubers including kipkay (shown below, left) and HouseholdHacker (shown below, right) exclusively making these types of videos. As of October 2013, YouTube has nearly 1.7 million search results for “life hacks.”
In June 2008, the /r/LifeHacks subreddit launched, attracting more than 215,000 subscribers as of October 2013. On March 12th, 2009, the Facebook fan page for Marc and Angel Hack Life was created, but they did not begin posting until December 2010. Despite this, they have gained more than 116,000 likes, making their page the largest life hack fan page on Facebook. Also in 2009, the @LifeHacks Twitter account was launched, gaining more than 400,000 followers as of the same date. TheirToys created an infographic (shown below) with 35 life hacks in August 2010 that was shared on a number of internet culture blogs including The High Definite, My Modern Met, I Am Bored and The Next Web.
Click through to see entire infographic.
Since 2010, at least three Tumblr blogs have been created dedicated to life hacks: Life Hacks, Fuck Yeah Life Hacks, and the most prolific, LifeHackable, which often makes satirical posts as well. In July 2011, Redditor capertiller submitted a large collection of life hacks from across the web to Reddit, which gained 13,905 upvotes, 3,225 points overall and 1,307 comments prior to being archived. That year, life hack threads began to appear more frequently on both humor and pop culture sites including Instructables, FunnyJunk, the Huffington Post, eBaum’s World, Smosh and Discovery.com. Additionally, in September 2011, On The Media spoke with O’Brien about the evolution of the term “hack,” noting he felt “a small twinge of guilt” over his coinage of “life hack” and seeing it now over-applied.
On October 15th, 2012, Tumblr user joelzimmerman compiled a series of image macros featuring 99 everyday life hacks that gained more than 337,000 notes within a year. Images from this series also appeared on Kottke.org, Laughing Squid, The Meta Picture and Dump a Day that month. Throughout late 2012 and 2013, these images along with other life hack images and videos posts appeared on Buzzfeed, Twisted Sifter, the TED blog, Cracked, the Chive, Mashable, PBS and MakeUseOf. In October 2013, John Green of Mental Floss tested out 30 of these image macros, proving many of them do not work (shown below).
In September 2004, the domain name Lifehacker.com was registered by Gawker Media, who launched the site in January 2005 with Gina Trapani as the lead editor. The first hack offered by the site was a “word stemmer” tool that worked with the social bookmarking site Del.ici.ous to clean up similar tags and remove duplicates within a user’s account.
Boing Boing – Life Hacks: Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks
O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference – Life Hacks: Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks