Core Intuition with Brent Simmons

Daniel and I welcomed Brent Simmons on the Core Intuition podcast this week. Here’s Brent on writing and the web as a guarantee of free speech:

“The old web where I feel like more people saw the web as what I was talking about: as a unique and amazing invention in human history, a thing that can bring the 6 billion voices out into the open, to tell their stories and say what they’re going to say. That this thing is really something special, and it shouldn’t just be treated as a way for monetizing eyeballs and figuring out great new advances in interstitial ads. [...] We can’t lose sight of the opportunity this is. And if the story really is that the web exploded in the mid 90s and became a wonderful thing, and then stopped being that wonderful thing a little more than 20 years later… Then I couldn’t even bear that heartbreak.”

Hope you all enjoy the episode. It was great to have Brent on the show.

2014/10/23 12:53 pm

NSDrinking is tonight, 8pm at The Ginger Man. Schedule will probably shift a little for the holidays the rest of the year. Hope to see y’all there!

On the eve of Twitter Flight

Twitter’s new mobile developer conference is tomorrow. Marco Arment writes about whether developers should give Twitter another chance:

“Twitter started out as a developer-friendly company, then they became a developer-hostile company, and now they’re trying to be a developer-friendly company again. If I had to pick a company to have absolute power over something very important, Twitter wouldn’t be very high on the list.”

Dave Winer responds that for now, we’ll be okay trusting Twitter:

“Twitter is not going to screw us in the short term. They need us as much as we need them. Independent developers are where wholly new ideas come from. You can’t hire people to do that to work inside companies.”

The unique tragedy with Twitter’s changing attitude toward developers is that so many of Twitter’s early innovations did come from third-party developers. The new leadership displayed an incredible disrespect for the value developers added to both the ecosystem and core platform.

Unfortunately in the “short term” it’s still happening. Not 4 years ago, not 2 years ago — just 1 month ago, TwitPic announced they are shutting down after a legal threat from Twitter. It’s a loss for the web, leaving millions of broken image links in old tweets. This latest third-party developer casualty from Twitter’s policies comes practically on the eve of their new developer conference.

I agree with Dave’s larger points, though, on mirroring content to your own blog in addition to Twitter and Facebook. His Radio3 is a step forward for RSS and the open web while still embracing social networks. We need more tools like it.

2 years ago I chose to stop tweeting from my personal Twitter account as a minor protest. I don’t expect everyone else to take such an extreme stance. We can agree on open formats and the power of microblogging while disagreeing on how to interact with Twitter.

(Skeptics say that leaving Twitter is a pointless gesture, like a pebble thrown into a river. The timeline flows on and the outrage is washed away as if it didn’t happen. If leaving doesn’t make an impact, why bother? But it does matter. It matters not for the change it creates directly for others, but for how it changed me. In the same way that writing an essay will solidify your thoughts on a subject, posting that last tweet has given me a new clarity from which to judge whether my own products are on the right track, living up to my ideals.)

Back to the present. On the flight up to Çingleton and back, I finally got around to reading the book Hatching Twitter. Since I was on Twitter near the beginning, I remember many events covered in the book: the launch at SXSW, the CEO shuffling, the names of early engineers who I’ve crossed paths with. I love how the book blends together things that I know are real with other details that must be more contrived or exaggerated, creating an engaging read that would seem to border on historical fiction if we didn’t know that it was basically all true.

Hatching Twitter captures the power struggles inside Twitter and fills a book with them. And that’s really the foundation for Marco’s post: based on Twitter’s history, we probably haven’t seen the last leadership change at the company. Twitter might have a strong future but it surely has an uncertain one.

My next product is about microblogging, and it has to launch in the real world where Twitter dominates. But I view that as a reality, not a feature requirement. I think I’ll be happier as a developer, and my app will actually be more compelling, if I design and build it for a world without Twitter.

Making RSS real-time

One of the critiques of RSS feeds in a world dominated by Facebook and Twitter is that RSS just isn’t fast enough. You can’t hope to achieve what Twitter calls “in-the-moment updates” and “watch events unfold” if your client is polling each web site’s RSS feed once an hour for new microblog posts.

Luckily this was solved years ago. Many blogging apps (including WordPress) have a setting to “ping” another server when a post has been published. When it receives this notification, the other server can request the RSS feed and make note of the new post right away.

There are a few flavors of this, such as just passing the URL of the updated feed, or sending an XML-RPC request, or passing the actual post content along with the ping as JSON. It may not be the most efficient or elegant solution, but it works well, and it’s significantly better than frequent polling. You could build something on this.

Some distributed Twitter clones try to come up with something more clever instead. And there are attempts like PubSubHubbub with significant traction. But adopting any new technology is hard, and this ping system is surprisingly well deployed already. Worse is better wins again.

iPhone 6 Plus and iPod

Kirby Turner wrote about needing an iPhone 6 Plus as a developer but not really wanting one as a user:

“As a developer what I really want is an iPod touch Plus. If Apple were selling an iPod touch Plus that is the same as the iPhone 6 Plus minus the phone, then I would buy it in an instant. That way I could continue using my iPhone 5 as my primary phone device and the iPod touch Plus as a test device.”

I’ve talked about skipping this phone generation on the podcast a few times. I already got out of the yearly updates when I kept the 4S forever and then got the 5C instead of the 5S. After seeing the 6 Plus in person at the Apple Store and with everyone who had one at Çingleton, I’m pretty comfortable with my decision. But I’d strongly consider replacing my iPad Mini with a 5.5-inch iPod Touch.

2014/10/13 7:17 am

Quiet, cold morning walking through beautiful Old Montreal. I had the square outside Notre-Dame Basilica completely to myself, for a moment. Thank you Çingleton for 4 great years enjoying visits to your city.

2014/10/10 12:38 pm

When it rains, it pours. Went back to my hotel room to fix a minor server glitch and found several problems across my web apps: full disk on a server, Redis expiration problem, bug updating Stripe accounts, etc.

The unremarkable yesterday

Yesterday you had lunch with friends or family and posted a photo of your food and location to Twitter. It didn’t matter much. You put it on Twitter and didn’t care that you didn’t have a copy or didn’t post it to your own blog first, because controlling that trivial bit of content just didn’t seem important at the time.

5 years later, 10 years later, 15 years later. That lunch is magic now — a captured moment, something you wouldn’t remember and didn’t think to record elsewhere unless you keep a comprehensive private journal. Maybe it was the day before a significant event or on a trip. The true context is only revealed with hindsight.

I wrote this blog post because I wanted to follow up on my post about blogging every day, underscoring that seemingly unimportant events can carry great meaning later. Those common everyday activities that don’t seem noteworthy today? That’s our life. One after another, strung together for days and then years until we die. It’s the culture of the 21st century scattered among millions of micro posts. And it’ll be lost to time if we don’t curate it.

Yesterday was unremarkable only because we’re too close to it. Later we’ll understand that it meant everything. And if that’s true, let’s aspire to something greater than our content being sliced up and interspersed with ads on someone else’s platform.