dave peck :: software, music, nerdery

Twitter Mainland

Brent Simmons deleted all his old tweets. He wants to own and control his writing, including his microposts.

Manton Reece chimed in with an interesting reply:

Justin Williams joked that Brent and I are now the sole inhabitants of “Manton Island”. That’s funny but it’s actually backwards; it’s Twitter that is the island. Everyone is there, though, in an overpopulated mess, so they don’t realize they’re cut off from the rest of the world — the open web, designed 25 years ago as an interconnected system of countless islands.

I think it’s a noble goal to build systems that let people express themselves while retaining full ownership and control of their expression. I’ve spent a surprising portion of my recent downtime thinking about such systems, and I’m slowly consolidating my own output under one roof.

But there’s an uncomfortable truth to Justin’s joke: most people don’t care about ownership and control. At least, not principally. To them, Twitter isn’t an overpopulated island: it’s the mainland. Everywhere else is the vast, quiet sea.

If we want people to set sail for brighter shores, we’ll need to do more than replicate the features of central silos in distributed fashion. As table stakes, we’ll need to provide world-class user experiences for reading and writing, and we’ll need to have a story for discovery so the network can grow.

But most importantly, we’ll need to offer something new to do on our islands that can’t be done, or done well, anywhere else. Network effects are the lifeblood of any social network. Our travel brochures will need to offer compelling new reasons to visit.

I suspect this is why the systems I’ve played with so far have failed to thrive. Some slavishly copied their progenitors, providing little added value. Some offered bridges to ease transition, only to become mere appendages to their centralized counterparts.

This is our challenge and our opportunity. Twitter is a highly evolved organism, well adapted to the centralized landscape. Distributed systems are fundamentally different terrain with fundamentally different character. What new and compelling organisms might thrive here?

Papertrail sells to SolarWinds

My friends Troy and Eric just sold their bootstrapped Seattle startup, Papertrail, to SolarWinds in an all-cash deal. Says Troy:

By not trying to build a large business — and simply trying to deliver an amazing experience to every customer and sweat the details — we built a large business. No shortcuts, just hard work.

For me, Papertrail is an ideal startup success story. Troy and Eric built a product that elegantly solved an important infrastructure problem. They found great customers and scaled to meet demand. They never had to raise money and today they’ve had a well-deserved exit.

They did it their way. Cheers to that, guys!

Hashicorp's Vault

I’m consistently impressed by the work that Mitchell Hashimoto and team are doing at Hashicorp.

Hashicorp builds tools that solve tightly focused real-world DevOps problems. Their solutions nearly always match my own mental model of the problems’ shape and extent. The Unix philosophy shines through: Hashicorp’s tools are independent but composable; developers can mix and match to meet their unique needs.

We use a couple Hashicorp tools at Cloak. If we had the bandwidth to improve our process and infrastructure, we’d quickly use a couple more. Vault solves a problem we’ve already had to solve ourselves, but it appears to do so in a much more complete and elegant way.

The golden rules of tech support

In response to my previous post, François Joseph proposes six interesting and actionable rules for better tech support. These seem to have been hard-won by François at a very large company.

There’s a catch:

None of the above can help if your product works poorly or your interface is atrocious. Dave’s case is fascinating because the inexpertly designed interface is not his to change.

Yes. The profile install process is fraught with peril. I think there’s much more we can do, both in our current iOS apps and in our support efforts, to wrap this process in softer blankets. The process itself, however, will forever be out of our hands.

We tend to think of Cloak for Mac as asymptotically approaching our ideal VPN client. Our iOS apps are another matter entirely, precisely because of this speed bump.