Last week, I had the pleasure of talking to the Dublin #DevRel Meetup, organised by my friends at Voxgig – all about Developer Relations in the era of “Community Everywhere”. I covered a range of the current and emerging social platforms where we can connect with our communities, and later in the session I talked more specifically about what’s new in Mastodon 4.2.
The organisers also invited me to talk about the new release of Mastodon, version 4.2. This is the first major version to have come out since I started helping the team, and it’s a pretty big deal as it introduces a few major features that folks have been looking for, notably opt-in search. In the second part of my section of the meetup, I talked a bit about version 4.2, and also shared a few tools that I use regularly that give me additional features and ways to keep up with the conversations around the communities I want to connect with. The notes are again available at the same link posted above.
tl;dr (aka didn’t watch / or check the notes) – there are a few third-party apps and tools that I use regularly to help me to stay up-to-date. In particular, I love (and choose to pay for) Murmel and fediview which email me daily summaries of links or conversations I might otherwise miss in the reverse-chronological timeline. I also use some browser extensions that add a few niceties to the experience, such as Graze and Streetpass.
Thanks to Sinead and Richard for having me talk at the meetup, and for continuing to support the DevRel community with great content each month – there’s also a good podcast from Voxgig that you should check out.
Last week, there was a flurry of interest in a new addition to the #Fediverse: Postmarks. It’s social bookmarking (like Digg, del.icio.us, or more recently, Pinboard), now with ActivityPub support. Neat!
Organising stuff, “back in the day”
Back in the 2000s I was a huge fan of a site called del.icio.us, and the original iteration of our weekly podcast – currently called Games at Work dot Biz – was named Dogear Nation. Back when Michael and Michael kicked off that show, there was a podcast called Digg Nation which tried to round up the interesting community links and trends from the week on Digg. IBM at the time had an internal version of a social bookmarking / folksonomical platform similar to del.icio.us called “dogear” (like, folding the page of a book to mark it), so Dogear Nation encouraged listeners to tag links on del.icio.us for us to discuss each week… del.icio.us was bought by Yahoo! in 2005, and eventually, went away.
Fast forward 15 years to our current podcast, and we still love it when listeners share links for us to discuss, but there’s less of an organised way to do it!
Join the Federation
A brief diversion, because I’ve not written too much about this on my blog up until now.
Unlike the centralised “Web 2.0”-based, largely corporate-owned sites that dominate the current web, the Fediverse is a set of related services that share some common protocols (ActivityPub is one, but there are others involved) and are loosely-connected. As well as each service usually having some form of “flagship” instance, it is is also very common to encourage diversity by location and interests, and often self-hosting, so it won’t be possible for an unsavoury billionaire to buy the things you use, or misuse and steal the data that you’ve put into them. Your network and your data are your own.
I’m very active across a range of sites and services that are analogous to those you might be familiar with. On Mastodon, for instance, I currently do some work with Mastodon gGmbH, the non-profit behind the project and host of two of the larger service instances; and although my original account was on one of those instances, at the end of last year I moved my account (taking the related network of connections with me) to a much smaller server run by a former coworker, mostly populated by other former coworkers, but I’m still connected with users across the rest of the Fediverse.
You can also find me on PixelFed (Instagram-like photo sharing), on Lemmy (Reddit-like groups and communities), on PeerTube (YouTube-like video channels) where I live on the diode.zone instance for makers and electronics enthusiasts, on Bookwyrm (GoodReads-like community), and so on. Basically there are a number of slices of “me” out there, in spaces where it makes sense. Essentially, if you’re on Mastodon and you’re interested in my videos, you can follow my PeerTube account from Mastodon without having to sign up for PeerTube. It’s pretty cool.
Yes! Postmarks is a single-user, super small and simple server for managing your own bookmarks. When I add a bookmark on my own Postmarks server, my Postmarks account effectively publishes the new entry to the rest of the Fediverse as an activity. So, if you’re interested in what I’m bookmarking and you have a Mastodon account, you can follow @email@example.com and you’ll see the new entries as they get added. If you’re not interested, don’t follow my account, and we’re all good. Oh, and it supports Atom feeds for different tags (categories), too.
Postmarks runs on Glitch – or, anywhere else you can stand up a Node.js / Express app. Personally I love Glitch, and I’ve been using it for many years now for hosting demos and trying out different projects – in fact, my main links page runs on Glitch. The Postmarks developer Casey Kolderup works there, and Casey has made it really straightforward to remix directly on Glitch, or import from GitHub there or to another service of your choice – it has very few dependencies.
My usual pattern for reading and saving content is whilst mobile. There’s a bookmarklet that’s part of the project, but no easy way to add it to my system for links to end up on Postmarks from my phone or tablet. I turned to Apple Shortcuts to help out.
This does not do too much – it takes a link from the share sheet or clipboard, and opens the add bookmark page popup in a browser tab. At the moment there’s no full API for Postmarks, so this is a bit of a stopgap or workaround. Annoyingly, it will also leave you with an empty browser tab you’ll need to close, but it works.
If you’d like to try the automation, you can get it via RoutineHub, which links to the Shortcut in iCloud. You’ll be prompted to add the hostname of your Postmarks instance, and you will already need to have signed in to that site in your web browser of choice.
It has been a while since I’ve written a general “what I’m working on” post, so I’m fixing that now. It has been a busy year — I last published a newsletter in March 2021, and I didn’t get back to writing — primarily technical writing– until the start of 2022.
I’ve also diversified my writing between my own site, occasionally Medium, developer-focused posts on DEV, and elsewhere. Truth be told, I’m not completely sure how to manage the spread, whilst also maintaining a consistent way to share with an audience — apart from the fact that I Tweet a lot, of course! In an effort to bring things together, at least from an audience perspective, I plan to cross-post this extended update on a number of those channels, and think about how to continue from there.
One thing I’ve tried to keep at regularly is our podcast, Games at Work dot biz. If you’ve not come across that yet, the show is available via all of the major podcast services, and directly on our website. Each week, my two good friends Michael Martine and Michael Rowe, join me to talk about various tech topics: mostly relating to virtual worlds and gaming (now usually called “the Metaverse”), social web, collaboration, and other fun snippets. We’ve actually been running for over 10 years now, and before that, had another podcast that itself ran for 200 episodes — it has been a lot of fun. The episode we just recorded, as I type this, talked about retail brands exploring the Metaverse, which brought back strong vibes of my days exploring and working in Second Life at IBM in the mid 2000s!
— We’d love to hear what you think of the show; if you like it, please leave a podcast review, and tell a friend.
A personal (and health) update
Last year I took ~5 weeks out, completely disconnected from the online world, for mental health and personal reasons. It was much-needed, and I think it has enabled me to get much better perspective in various parts of my life.
Since the start of 2022 in particular I’ve been thinking of what I’m doing online, in Open Source, and across different communities, as a bit of a reset or “back to my roots”. I’ll come back to mention side projects and interests later in this post, but I felt really energised at the start of the year, and consistently blogged something technical at least once a week though January and February, over on DEV. DEV is a community that I’ve been spending a lot of time in during the past couple of years, and I’m happy to be connected there as a moderator and community helper. I want to get back to writing more frequently.
More recently, in the past month I finally had a procedure to “fix” the heart anomaly that I shared on my blog back in 2013. The pandemic thoroughly messed up the waiting times for this, of course. I’m in complete awe of the medical science that enabled the operation — a keyhole procedure on a day surgery basis, with minimal lasting visible signs of entry, despite the complicated internal navigation involved. I appear to be doing pretty well, although the SVT itself was always a random occurrence, so it’s difficult to know whether the outcome is 100% confirmed, but having read the notes from the operation, I know they performed “regression tests” to check that they did what they intended. Absolutely thankful for our NHS, and for scientific advancement.
Another item on the personal side of this update, is that we had a chance to do a couple of trips away. The first of these was a ~10 day trip down to Italy, where we travelled by train on Eurostar to Paris, and on Trenitalia via a stop in Milan, down to Puglia. On return, we had tickets for Electromagnetic Field (#EMFCamp), a camping festival celebrating all things geek and tech around maker culture, open standards, electronica, and community. It was my first time at EMF, but I’m hoping to be able to go again when it returns in two years’ time.
Speaking gigs, current and future
As the world has started to open back up (for reasons good or bad), I’ve been excited to get back to one of my favourite activities — public speaking. I gave a number of talks over Zoom towards the end of last year, both professionally to our Twitter Developer Communities in different places around the world, and personally where requested to provide my experiences in fields like advocacy and community.
During March, I hosted eight Spaces on Twitter as open community feedback conversations about some new ideas we’re working on for the developer platform — new ways to add content to Tweets, similar to the current “cards” that appear when links are shared but more customisable; and, the ability to have more control over timelines. This is part of an effort to continue to build in the open, and I’m excited to be able to run sessions like this.
In May we held our first in-person @TwitterDev community meetup in 2 years, at the Twitter office in London — that was a huge buzz — it is always a privilege to talk to our developer community. More of these to come! As I mentioned above, next week I’ll be in Dublin (on my own time), giving a talk about MicroPython at the EuroPython conference (I also acted as a content reviewer for the event, and I’m looking forward to it — lots of good stuff on the schedule).
I’m also excited to have been invited to join Isaac Levin as a guest on his excellent Coffee & Open Source show; watch out for that coming up, in the next couple of months. There’s another unconfirmed podcast opportunity on the horizon as well.
I’m open to other podcast guest invitations, and speaking invitations, time and work permitting.
The day job
I touched on a few of the things that I’ve been working on at Twitter in the previous sections, and I expect to be particularly focused on preparing for Chirp, our developer conference, in the months between now and the event itself, in November.
My “outside work” interests recently have covered a whole range of different areas of tinkering, and it has occasionally been difficult to keep up with my own thoughts and excitement. There’s a lot of time-slicing involved…
I started to put a bit more time into my Fediverse presence, particularly around #EMFCamp — you’ll find me @firstname.lastname@example.org if that’s your preference. It’s not completely identical to my Twitter feed, but there is some bridging involved. There’s definitely a new swirl of possibility around federated networks.
MicroPython has led me along a number of different paths — since it runs on a whole variety of different hardware.
In January a tiny ESP32-C3-powered board covered in RGB LEDs caught the attention of the maker community, and I subsequently wrote a small blog series and created a project around it (fivebyfive on GitHub). It also highlighted a few learning opportunities around MicroPython on the ESP32-C3, which have been addressed in the current release. The worldwide chip shortage has meant the RP2040 chips from the Raspberry Pi folks have been more available than some alternatives, so I’ve been playing with a lot of boards based on those, but until about a week ago, connectivity was more of an issue than with the Espressif chips!
On another side of the hardware arena, I’ve long been curious about the RC2014, a Zilog Z80-based homebrew computer with a variety of different options. My friend Chris Swan was able to give me some advice on what pieces I might want to look into, and I ordered an RC2014 Pro kit; I then met the creator, Spencer, at #EMFCamp and put together the smaller RC2014 Micro.
Talking of retro technology, I’ve also continued to enjoy building or customising consoles of a bygone era. The Miyoo Mini v2 is a really nice little handheld with a gorgeous screen, with a number of custom OS options. I also want to get back to my MiSTer setup at some point, to give all of the cores a refresh to their current releases (and to actually get it hooked up to the TV). Apart from the retro stuff, I was also relatively (!) early on in the waves of recipients for the Steam Deck. So, not only am I dividing my attention between a number of side projects, I’m also jumping between gaming devices and platforms and eras… 🤦
There are a number of other gadgets that have arrived in the past 6 months, but one I’ll call out is the ClockworkPi DevTerm, a 1980s TRS-80 lookalike slab portable that is clipped together in parts, and can take a number of different “cores”, or processor boards. I picked mine up with the R01 core, a RISC-V Allwinner D1 chip which is experimental in the context of trying to run a Linux distribution. There are other options available; I have a CM4 adapter on the way. This is another community that I’ve enjoyed interacting with, as we learn new things together, and share our experiences.
Oh, and I picked up a Bluetooth thermal printer, with the face of a cat.
Finally, I connected with a new group, Together, We Open Source, and have been following the meetups there, helping people get comfortable with OSS contributions. It feels like a bit of a full circle experience for me, to revisit my roots and share what I’ve learned.
I don’t plan to broadly expand the various side projects I listed out above, but I’m enjoying the things I’m contributing to. I also have a couple of lists full of the next thing I want to build! Mostly, I want to stay connected with others, and to learn, and share what I’m doing — back to where I started in communities and Open Source.
I’m going to think more about where and how I share my content / ramblings / thoughts. This is intended to be a one-off multi-channel post, but maybe I’ll do something similar again at some point.
I have had… a really strange, very challenging, couple of years. If you’re reading this, and you’ve read this far, it’s probably because you subscribed to my content at some point, which means I’ve been interesting to you at some level.
Thank you for your attention and interest, and your support. I hope I’ve helped you or inspired you somehow, along the way. I’d love to hear what you think, about anything from the stuff I’ve been working on, to our podcast, or just to tell me to [stop / continue / Tweet less often / drink more water] *delete as appropriate
If you’re so inclined, I have a page on Ko-fi, as well, where you can contribute to my habit of buying random dev boards on AliExpress. All (ok, almost all) of my interesting links are here.
As time has moved on, I’ve lavished less attention on my blog, which is a shame… “back in the day” I enjoyed writing for it, and gained a lot of value from doing so. It’s of no particular surprise to me that I’ve spent less time writing here in 2014 than in any of the previous years; but it is a regret. I blame my schedule, a general change in the way I interact online, and a lack of inspiration. Actually, that last one isn’t quite true: I’ve often been inspired, or felt the need to blog, but have found myself mentally blocked. I need to get over that!
Anyway… 2014, looking back… a little bit of a year in review.
The major life change this year was my move to Twitter, which has been very exciting and energising. I’m thrilled to have been invited to work with a team of exceptional people under Jeff Sandquist. In particular, this year I’ve had the short-lived opportunity to work with three brilliant and talented guys I want to say “thank you” to, for making my transition to my new role such a pleasure: Taylor Singletary, Sylvain Carle and Isaac Hepworth. A special shout-out too to my close friend and colleague based in London, Romain Huet, without whom I would have found the past nine months much less fun or easy-to-navigate! The whole team has been just amazing to work with, as have all my wonderful colleagues at the Twitter office in London #gratefulpipes
I’ve been involved in the launch of a couple of APIs (most notably the Mute API), and I’m getting to work on much of the external API surface, which plays well with my background and developer experience. We’ve completely relaunched our developer-facing website and forums in the past few months, which the whole team has worked hard on. I’m happy to see the focus of discussion on the developer forums substantially improved now that we’ve moved to the Discourse platform – the user experience is far better than we had with the previous solution.
Most importantly, this past quarter we launched Fabric, our new free mobile SDK and platform for iOS and Android, and delivered a swathe of improvements to the developer experience for mobile enthusiasts. We also ran our first mobile developer conference, Flight – I was excited to be there, and I’m looking forward to seeing that experience continue in 2015.
My background in the Internet of Things and MQTT space has partly carried over into my new life at Twitter, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a couple of events (including Flight) about how Twitter’s platform plays into that space. However, I’ve substantially stepped back from playing a major role in the MQTT community this year; a decision in part driven by the need to refocus on my new role, partly due to some personal hostility and “burnout” with a couple of specific issues, but mostly because – I’m no longer “needed”! It has been incredibly satisfying to see the MQTT community grow over the past few years. The standardisation of the protocol at OASIS, the large number of implementations, and the ability of many other much smarter people to pick up the kinds of speaking engagements I was previously doing as a matter of course – all of these things make me immensely proud to have helped to lay the foundations for the success of that community over the past six years or so.
I’ve also been very happy to see the success of the Cloud Foundry platform and the people involved – having devoted the previous two years of my career to that nascent Open Source community, it is just fantastic to see it take off and the Foundation get started. Nice work to everyone involved.
I’ve again thoroughly enjoyed my speaking opportunities this year, and the chance to broaden my range. Obviously that has included a lot about the Twitter API and developer platform, and lots again about IoT; but I’ve also spoken on wearables, developer advocacy, and API management. I’m very happy that I got to be a part of the first Twitter Flight conference – one of my speaking career highlights.
Personally, I’ve tried to stay healthy this year (no heart scares, no falls…!); although my travel schedule has been demanding again (TripIt tells me I covered 66613 miles in the air). That did at least include a couple of trips for fun, rather than being all about business 🙂
The next year looks to be busy with more events to speak at (and organise!), and much more to do around the Twitter platform. As an historian, a sociologist and someone with a keen interest in the intersection of technology and people, I’m very excited to be a part of this wave of change.
Pivotal is bringing together a number of key technology assets – our Open Source cloud platform (Cloud Foundry), agile development frameworks like Spring, Groovy and Grails, a messaging fabric (RabbitMQ), and big, fast data assets like Pivotal HD.
What we’re announcing today delivers on that promise and our vision – the consumer-grade enterprise, enabling organisations to create new applications with unprecedented speed. The cloud – infrastructure clouds, IaaS like Amazon EC2, VMware vSphere, OpenStack, CloudStack, etc – can be thought of as the new hardware. It’s like buying a beige server box back in the 90s – the IaaS layer gives you a bunch of CPU, network, and storage resources, and for your application to use them, you need a layer in between – an operating system, if you like. We’ve spoken of our ambition for Cloud Foundry as “the Linux of the Cloud”, and it already runs on all of those infrastructures I’ve listed above – in the future, hopefully more.
Why is that important? Why should developers care about this Platform (PaaS) layer? A development team shouldn’t have to go through an 18 month delivery cycle to deliver an app! We’re putting an end to the whole cycle of calling up the infrastructure team, having new servers commissioned, operating systems installed, databases configured etc etc just to get an application deployed and running. When you first push an application to Cloud Foundry, and can then bind data services and scale out with simple individual commands, it really is a liberating experience compared to what traditionally has been required to get your application running. We’re making it quicker and easier to get going – a friction-free, turnkey experience. You should just be able to write your code and make something amazing.
We’re also delivering choice – of runtimes and languages, data services, and also importantly, a choice of “virtual hardware”. When Comic Relief ran in the UK this year, in order to avoid any risk of hardware failure (we all know there’s a risk that Amazon might go down), the applications were deployed on Cloud Foundry running on both Amazon EC2 with geographical redundancy, and on VMware vSphere – no lock-in to any cloud provider, and the developers didn’t have to learn all of the differences of operating different infrastructures, they just pushed their code. We’re happy to know that it was a very successful year for the Comic Relief charity, and that Cloud Foundry helped.
Pivotal One also includes some amazing data technologies – Pivotal HD (a simple to manage Hadoop distribution) and Pivotal AX (analytics for the enterprise). We recognise that as well as building applications, you need to store and analyse the data, so rather than just shipping a Cloud Foundry product, we roll up both the elastic scalable runtime, cutting-edge technologies like Spring.io, and and our big data offerings. That’s different from many of the others in the same market. We’ve been running our own hosted cloud, now available at run.pivotal.io, on AWS for over a year now, so we’ve learned a lot about running systems at scale and Pivotal One can do just that.
Above all, I wanted to say just how excited I am to be part of this amazing team. It is an honour to work with some incredibly talented engineers and leaders. I’m also personally excited that our commercial and our open source ecosystems continue to grow, including large organisations like IBM, SAP, Piston … it’s a long list. We took out an ad in the Wall Street Journal to thank them. I also want to thank our community of individual contributors (the Colins, Matts, Davids, Dr Nics, Yudais… etc etc!) many of whom, coincidentally for me, are in the UK – check out the very cool Github community where some of their projects are shared.
I’m convinced that this Platform is the way forward. It’s going to be an even more exciting year ahead.
A small selection of other coverage, plenty more to read around the web: