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Open Source Bridge - The Story of Spaz: How to Give Away Everything, Make No Money, and Still Win

Edward Finkler @funkatron

  • non-technical talk--"why I do what I do"

    • learned how I define what success and happiness are

  • Spaz is a personal project -- about 3 years old

    • twitter client -- "your special twitter friend"

      • based on original logo people thought he was making fun of mentally retarded people

      • actually is a picture of clay aiken from early american idol

  • Early 2007

    • work started on Spaz

    • had done a couple of open source PHP libraries in the past

    • had only done open source for other developers, not for end users

    • started work in RealBasic on Mac

      • also the author of LameBrain, wrapper for LAME

    • started getting interested in twitter API

    • not many other Mac clients for twitter at the time

    • article written up in ars technica about it

    • pownce came along about the same time

      • came out with desktop client, written in apollo (now AIR)

    • RealBasic wasn't set up to make it easy to make it look non-standard or skin things

    • silverlight was also being released about this time, also Java FX

    • particularly interesting aspect of AIR was that you could make apps in HTML/CSS/JS in addition to Flash

      • looked at using Flex, but not a fan of monotheistic technology

      • Flex community is a lot like the MS development community--one official source of information, not a lot of community sharing going on

        • quite a contrast with something like PHP where everyone shares in a bunch of different ways

      • didn't like having to go through the official channels to try and figure things out

        • really hard to simply search for things on the internet and find examples with Flex

    • twitter was really flaky at this point--had to write the code very defensively

    • learned a ton by digging into this--crash course in javascript

    • driven because he was interested in it and enjoyed working on it

      • "I liked what it did, and I used it"

  • November 2007

    • Adobe had AIR Developer Derby in mid-2007

      • submitted Spaz on a whim

      • got a call in October 2007 from Adobe saying he won

        • got to go to Adobe MAX conference, lots of PR around it

    • Adobe didn't give a rat's ass that it was open source

      • they liked it because it was pretty

      • only got about 5 submissions on the HTML side of things

    • was at the AIR booth--people asking tons of questions that frankly Adobe should have been answering

      • turned into evangelist of sorts

    • cool that Spaz got known in the wider world

  • 2008-2009

    • started to get emails criticizing the name--"why do you hate the disabled?"

      • happened quite a bit

    • tons of twitter clients released in 2008

      • lots of them written in AIR

      • a few clients were a lot better with marketing themselves -- biggest example is TweetDeck

        • people spending full-time on it, went after venture capital, etc.

        • cool if you want a twitter client that fills your whole screen, but wasn't what he wanted to do

    • seeing success of tweetdeck was hard

    • the thing I like about open source is creating something and getting ideas from people, hearing about how they're using the product, etc.

    • lots of end users were saying stupid things like "Spaz sucks"

      • big disconnect--creating products for end users is pretty different from creating developer libraries

      • people were dismissive and mean -- made it not fun

      • eventually learned to respond with humor to baseless criticisms

        • helped to not get as upset about things

    • started seeing companies that were hanging off twitter and providing services that twitter doesn't provide

      • twitter has started to stomp out all the ancillary business around twitter

    • started getting offers from companies around spaz

      • people offering money to add specific services to spaz, e.g. twitpic

    • wanted to continue to provide an open source, transparent twitter client

      • in one case took money as a donation to offset overall development time into spaz

      • wasn't interesting in doing this in general

    • this underlined a specific way that he wasn't willing or able to compete with other clients that were out there

      • would sacrifice transparency around the project

      • realized how screwed up and evil tech journalism is--fundamentally wrong

        • actively manipulate how people perceive things, don't give coverage to things that don't play their game

    • started to realize he couldn't compete with other clients because of all the extraneous junk that goes on

  • palm webos -- jan 2009 - june 2009

    • got call to see if he was interested in working on apps for the new webos

    • palm wasn't really known as an open source company

    • said up front he wanted to keep the app open source--palm didn't object

    • web development as a rule is pretty open, but palm didn't really have this understanding in their DNA

    • had to sign really strict NDA

    • palm was rushing things out, documentation was terrible

    • went to a developer event at palm--could talk about things, but couldn't share the code he had written--against the NDA

    • this six months sucked because couldn't make something and share it with other people

    • palm didn't tell him another company was also working on a twitter app for webos

      • found out from someone else--no information sharing going on

      • bunch of secret stuff--wasn't fun

    • didn't get a development device--emulator ran 3X faster than the actual phone

      • didn't write specifically to their proprietary platform so it ran slow

      • another twitter app that did write to the proprietary bits ran faster

    • got email from palm asking not to release source code

      • had told them first thing he was going to open source it

      • lot of wtf moments

      • decided he would never work for another company like this under an NDA

      • palm didn't get the sharing culture--they get it much better now

    • two guys from ajaxian got hired to better interface with the development community

      • immediate changes for the better--hope HP doesn't screw it up

    • reminded me of lessons i should have learned the first time around

    • friend recommended book -- "ignore everybody and 39 other keys to creativity"

      • the thing that you really like doing, if you rely on it for income, it'll become less enjoyable and it will change how you interact

      • when spaz became something that was being defined by standard definitions of success, the process became less enjoyable

      • had to redefine what success was

  • july 2009

    • spaz statement of purpose

      • can keep going back to this and referencing it to remind himself of why he's doing what he's doing

    • spaz was built for the sake of building it. it is not a means to an end. however, creating it has had several good consequences.

      • point of it was to build something and build something good

    • spaz demonstrates that making things is good, and sharing how you make them is better.

      • creative endeavor in and of itself is good

      • sharing is what makes me happy

    • spaz is a necessary counter to closed, hidden technologies. spaz must always be open.

      • source code must always be open and have to be transparent about the intentions of the project

      • important that we have options, even if they aren't the most popular or defeat other projects

    • the value of spaz does not lie in the judgments of others, but in the process of building it, and the enjoyment derived by those who use it.

    • we welcome anyone who wishes to participate in the spaz project with open arms, as long as they understand and respect the purposes of the project.

    • the spaz project values clear and open communication between participants.

    • having the statement of purpose helped keep things going when it was frustrating

  • 2nd half of 2009

    • not a lot happened

    • worked on getting webos version better

    • started on spazcore to share common things between all the different platforms

    • discovered didn't have time to try to keep multiple versions going

    • started working on community building

  • diversity statement

    • women are under-represented -- 10-15% in IT as a whole, open source it's more like 2-3%

    • worked with a group called phpwomen

    • largely lifted from python's diversity statement

  • rest of 2010 -- cultivating a community

    • initially was using google code for everything

    • have found that github works better

      • a lot of people use git (particularly js people), more social aspects oriented around git (easier to fork, etc.)

      • potentially attracts more people

    • and

      • tender oriented towards end-user support -- offer free accounts for open source projects

      • lighthouse more oriented towards developer issue tracking, setting milestones, etc. -- also have free accounts for open source projects

    • if you only have roadmap, etc. in your head it's very hard to get people to help you

      • need to break things down into issues of various size

      • schedule people's time for them in the sense that you give them bite-sized tasks

    • hackathon

      • great way to get more people involved

      • helps to have a schedule

      • done online with irc

    • have someone who's more or less dedicated to doing community related tasks


commadelimited said…'s Ed Finkler, not Spinkler. Just FYI.
Matthew Woodward said…
Thanks Andy--I'll correct that. Was reading the name off the OSB site and must have mistyped it.

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