They have little to no practical value for making in most cases and their social role can be easily supplanted by meeting up in a café. As an exercise, they are pretty pointless. Here, with attribution, is Clare Reddington on innovation:
You can’t crowbar your innovation and change into one weekend of the year. And its best not to invite 200 talented people to share their ideas with you if you don’t know how you might support them and take them forward after the pizza has run out and the room has been tidied.
Hackathons are brilliant ways to focus energy and time and talent, but they’re part of a process of development, of changing something. They’re not it alone.
(Back home in Iceland the university departments have a traditional outing called vísindaferð, or ‘science trip’. These trips generally involve the students visiting a company related to the subject matter they’re studying. Once there they then proceed to get absolutely hammered with the employees of said company sharing war stories, past failures and successes, and embarrassing stories that tell you what the industry’s culture values. I think all hackathons should be replaced with ‘science trips’ in the Icelandic style. Everybody would go home happy and well ‘connected’.)