UPDATE, 5/31: The big winner of the hackathon was Evoke, the team that build the mood-inspired YA recommendation engine!

So have you heard about hackathons? Being a child of pen and paper, I had only the barest understanding of what they are–basically, they’re short-term, high-speed contests where developers get together to generate apps. So what’s a Publishing Hackathon? Well, the first one ever is currently taking place, and will have its finale at the height of Book Expo America’s convention next week. Check out their website for details on attending.

I thought it might be a bit gimmicky, but there are some good reasons for linking new media to old in this fashion.  One of the biggest challenges facing publishing in the new millennium is “discoverability”–that is, when so many readers are shopping online, how do they browse? How do they discover new books, not just the one that drove them to the website? The answer to this question will be key to players in the book biz for years to come…and if you have a good answer, it could be worth $10,000!

Submissions ranged from a recommendation engine that suggests YA books by the mood their characters inspire to one that recommends books based on their covers (kind of) to one that suggests books based on your Twitter feed (that one sounds a little stalkery to me!).

I wish there was an app that worked like Urban Spoon’s restaurant suggestion service: tell the app how much time you had for reading, and what mood you were in, and get recommendations with the shake of your smartphone! How do you find books online? What would be your fantasy app for suggesting books?