For many years I’ve interacted with my fellow humans, I think perhaps more than any other way, via the medium of Internet chat. But in my chat window, they’re fading, one by one. This problem is technical and personal and I felt it ought not to go unrecognized.

Adiumy

Since forever I’ve used a chat client called Adium; it’s open-source, has a good, polished, flexible UX, and is self-updating. The people I talked to, some of them were on AIM, ICQ, on various flavors of Jabber and XMPP and then, in latter years, Google+. What’s happening is, they’re going away. The chat connections I mean, although many of those underlying services are winking out too, one by one.

(That’s the Adium mascot, “Adiumy”, on the right.)

For those to whom those terms “Jabber” and “XMPP” are new, they represented the idea that any chat service should be able to talk to any other chat service, so you could use whichever you liked best, and hang with your friends wherever on the Net they hung their chatty hats.

There was a time when commercial chat services supported XMPP because it was felt to be the right thing to do. But that was old-school hippie thinking, because if chatterers can just go ahead and talk to anyone anywhere, then your service probably won’t go viral and how are you going to monetize? You can simultaneously think markets are a useful civic tool and recognize obvious, egregious failures. So the links were severed and a whole lot of services just died.

At one point, my Adium typically listed literally hundreds of people I might choose to talk with, with a red or green “available” glyph; they were grayed-out of they weren’t signed in.

These days, more and more are always grayed out, because they were on some other service that’s no longer connected. It makes me sad, because I can no longer say “Hey, qq?” when I want to. So I thought I’d cut and paste some of those people. The world being what it is, chances are there are lots that I’ll never chat with again.

So I’m going to tour through maybe 1% of the names in my chat window, for its own sake and to say I haven’t forgotten.

The top of the Adium window just now, only two people currently showing logged-in and available.

Phipps and Sharpe

Simon, long time open-source maven, is an important figure in my life. In 2004, when I ejected from a failing startup and was wondering what to do, Simon reached out and said “How about coming to work for Sun? You’re interesting because you’re a blogger.” I haven’t the vaguest how my life would have turned out if he hadn’t. Bruce’s life and mine have run roughly parallel since 1973 or so; we were students at the University of Guelph; I was a little ahead and marked his papers. Then he got mixed up in technology and markup and eventually XML and hired my wife, and now we hang out together a bit in the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association. Life is weird.

Let’s move into the territory of people who are still signed on, but not in chat mode. On current trends, they’ll be graying out soon.

Nottingham, O’Grady, Yugui

Mark is a pillar of the net, has done as much as any other human to keep HTTP’s design and specification coherent over the last couple of decades. Steve is an analyst with a baseball cap, and knows really a lot about the Internet biz. Yugui I hardly know —  for a long time she was the Ruby release manager, and has her fingerprints all over the language’s ecosystem.

Gregorio, Hardt, Rohit, Markes, Meier, Mueller

Now there’s a list. Joe is a technologist and evangelist. Dick was a long-time pillar of the Vancouver tech scene, I worked for him as a consultant once and dueled with him over hiring talent on others, now he’s a fellow Amazonian. Rohit is one of the most social humans on the planet and at one point the FoRK (Friends of) list was a force to be reckoned with in the Valley. I went to his wedding. Kevin has fought many standards crusades, most notably microformats; a person who cares deeply about keeping the Net working. Reto preceded me on the Android DevRel team at Google, and taught me a whole lot about advocacy, how to do it with integrity and sanity. Diane, whom I’ve known along multiple axes, lives in a nice part of the world and wears a red hat these days.

Cooper, Enebo

Ahh, Danese, she was doing Internet advocacy almost before there was an Internet. As a Microsoftie, she had to file a special ticket to get a specialized team to get her set up so she could get real Internet Mail, and nobody else there could understand why anybody would want such a thing.

Tom is a Rubyist, we hired him and Charles Nutter at Sun in the mid-two-thousands. He takes good pictures too.

Now we’re moving into the grayed-out territory, and I’ll take a quick tour through the alphabet; I manage to hit almost every letter. You might recognize some of the names.

Aitken

She was close to my ex-wife decades ago, then a development manager at the University of Waterloo; I liked her a lot but we’ve kind of lost touch.

Berners-Lee

You might have heard of this guy. Back in my W3C days, we drank like Churchill; not heavily but steadily. Tim’s always been on the right side of the important issues. He and I (and Jobs and Gates) were all born in the same year.

Cantrill

Taught me a whole lot about how the people who build kernels and filesystems think about them. He’s exhibited a regrettable tendency to JavaScript at certain times, but builds wonderful things. I think we’re competitors now.

DiBona

Chris sat for many years at the heart of Google’s culture and was a voice for sanity in a place that needed a whole lot more of it. Maybe he still is.

Enns-Bray

My nephew! Got his Ph.D. at ETH in Zürich in some scary combination of medicine and technology and is now making a living with it, still in Switzerland.

Faulkner, Ferraioli

Sally’s a dear friend, does hospitality in Melbourne, we see her every other year, more or less. Julia’s been in Google DevRel, exhibiting courage and grace while she’s fought an endless struggle with the kind of health issue that renders the medical profession alternately helpless and counterproductive; I admire her immensely.

Gilbane

There was a time when Frank was maybe the single most influential person in the world of publishing technology. I think he’s still working on it. I was briefly editor of The Gilbane Report; I still remember a huge lifesaving lunch he bought me when a series of travel/schedule breakages meant that I’d not managed a square meal in two successive days.

Hackborn, Hanley

Dianne is maybe the most accomplished software engineer the world has never heard of, buried in the bowels of Google. She was super helpful when I was trying to figure out how to be a voice for Android at Google. Dervala is a lovely person whose writing I worship, even though she only blogs annually these days. Stop what you’re doing and go read The Wishing Chair, 2018; you’ll thank me.

Hoffman

This one frosts my socks; I’ve worked with Paul quite a bit and like him a lot and our chat linkage is irremediably broken behind some fucking XMPP SNAFU that I’m not smart enough to figure out and fix. He helps build the Internet.

Janssen

Stephen invented the various Devoxx-related conferences and has done a fine job, contributing to the structure of the software commmunity.

Kilmer, Kimber

Rich is yet another Rubyist, lots of them in this episode; I miss being part of the Ruby family, it’s a fine place. Eliot was one of the original XML posse; we disagreed about almost every issue in the design of XML, but I never doubted his integrity or intelligence.

Leung

We hired Ted at Sun as another smart tech blogger; we also have photography in common. I got to know him and his family pretty well in the first blog-centric social-media surge, and thought a lot of them; I hope that family is still intact and hanging in.

Mansfield

Here’s another long parallel path. Phil was one of the inventors of SVG so I first met him in a standards context. Then our sons were on the same soccer teams (they still hang out sometimes) and our families became friends. But geography has intervened and we hardly see them any more.

Nicol

Gavin was doing magic with XML before there was XML. An eclectic and determined guy, I miss him. LinkedIn suggests he’s still in tech.

O’Reilly

Another name you might recognize; deserves credit for some of the nicer flavors you find in geek culture. The second O in “FOO” stands for O’Reilly.

Pilgrim

There was a time when Mark was maybe the most interesting person on the Internet. He disconnected with a bang, which decreased the value of the Net but may have saved his life.

Qhin

“The Barefoot Programmer” and that’s not just figurative, I’ve seen him shoeless in situations that most reasonable people would consider unreasonable. Always on the right side of the issues.

Ridley

I hardly know Michael but we hung out a bit when he was head librarian at the University of Guelph and I was re-acquainting myself with the place; he never failed to charm me.

Schonbrun, Schwartz, Scoble

Bill and I gave it our best shot at a startup but didn’t quite make it. I went to his wedding and miss him, although last time we spoke, he had the misfortune of being an Oracle employee. Randal Schwartz is a geek’s geek, just type his name into any search engine and prepare to be entertained. We’ve been on a cruise ship together, twice! And then there’s the Scobleizer, perhaps the canonical example of a life lived online. You can’t imagine what it was like in 2004-2005 when he was Microsoft’s Blogger and I was Sun’s and every word we wrote mattered. And did we ever write a lot.

Thomas

This is of course PragDave; I don’t know anybody in the world more accomplished at writing about software.

Udell

Jon, another master of the life online, has spotted a whole lot of technology trends before anyone; it’s never wrong to read what he writes.

Waite, Wardley, Weinberger

Mandy is special to me because she represents the first time, as a member of a Google hiring committee, that I got to be part of hiring a Googler. Great fun online, and you just can’t get any more eclectic. Simon’s presence online is massive and he seems to be right about everything even if I never quite grasped his mapping method. David and I go back to 1990 or so, and he taught me how best to use stories in a business context; this blog certainly wouldn’t exist without his influence.

Yamazaki

Fumi is a delightful person, the very model of a modern advocate, bridging the Pacific between Tokyo and Mountain View without apparent effort. Never boring.

Zawodny, Zeldman

Another couple of pioneers of the medium which you are now consuming; Jeremy was blogging way before blogging was cool. Jeffrey was designing websites before almost anyone knew what they were; he and I had way too much fun back in the days of the Web Standards Project, saying unspeakable things in public, but they were necessary things too.

Not blaming the Net · The fact that I’ve lost touch with so many of these people isn’t a technology problem, it’s me, me and the times we live in. Among the clear and present dangers to our way of life, once you get past Global Warming and deranged chiefs of state, the atomization of the social fabric is high, high on the list. I haven’t fought hard enough to stay connected (not alone in that). And time grows short.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Mike M (Mar 12 2019, at 05:55)

A big driver of this is the rise of mobile and the failure of a multi-protocol app to rise on either iOS and Android in the early years. Mobile killed the dream, and now everybody needs to use a mix of iMessage, WhatsApp, and Slack.

RIP Golden Age Computing, 2010-2015.

A single chat app for all your friends. Your MacBook Pro had lots of IO ports and upgradable memory and disk. Your mobile phone was useful but not yet domineering towards your life. You are truly missed.

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From: Karl Voit (Mar 12 2019, at 08:32)

It's not only unifying IMs, that is going down. I still mourn the decline of the Usenet as it solved so many issues we do face with web-based forums: account management, UI preferences, marking read articles/threads, killfiles and scoring for keywords/authors/threads/... in general, and so forth.

I've never been into IRC but I can see its benefits in comparison to IMs as well.

Some things are showing a negative development, losing capabilities that were seen as normal/solved a couple of years ago.

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From: Karl Voit (Mar 12 2019, at 10:04)

Addendum to my previous comment: I'm absolutely convinced that if email would not allow attachments, it would be as dead as the Usenet.

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From: Ben Overmyer (Mar 12 2019, at 11:26)

Many people reading this seem to be bemoaning the lack of decentralized communication options, or the death of chat applications.

For my part, the final statement of this article resonated more.

What good is all of this communications technology if we don't use it to connect with others?

Hit me up any time.

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From: Bryan (Mar 12 2019, at 11:51)

Thanks for this post. It was a good heart felt read.

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From: Jim (Mar 12 2019, at 12:06)

re: email Attachments or rich text.

Would be interesting to know where these people migrated to. I'm guessing Slack.

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From: Kelly (Mar 12 2019, at 12:30)

At least gopher is growing again.

gopher://gopher.floodgap.com/

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From: Dan (Mar 12 2019, at 13:38)

Thanks for posting this. I'm sad that the web has changed so much and I hope I can contribute to making it better going into the next decade.

On a lighter note, what do the other 'FO' in 'FOO' stand for?

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From: Mark Nottingham (Mar 12 2019, at 16:23)

I used to use Messages for jabber, but it lost support for that in the latest OS release, which made me very sad and yes all of the Apple engineers I know heard about it.

I steered clear of Adium because AIUI it's not supported software; they haven't had a release for a while, and parts of the Web site (e.g., "Development") don't work.

I currently use Monal and am not terribly happy with that, which is probably why I don't log in much these days.

It also might be red for you because of the TZ difference :)

I talk to various parts of the IETF Jabber mafia about this, and they can give detailed reasons about why XMPP failed. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have learned; we're still building federation-optional systems like WebRTC.

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From: Valeri S. (Mar 12 2019, at 17:13)

There is Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, ooVoo. Plus people spend more time on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, FaceBook... all of it on their phones with 8-core CPUs, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, reducing the motivation to open a laptop (or have one at home at all).

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From: Simone Brunozzi (Mar 12 2019, at 22:47)

> The second O in “FOO” stands for O’Reilly.

It's the third: "Friends Of O'Reilly"

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From: Bruno (Mar 13 2019, at 05:05)

Like Mike, I think this has to do with the rise of mobile.

Perhaps not that there were no good chat applications on mobile, but the online dynamics changed: pre-mobile, "online" would mean that you were in front of your computer, working, normally interruptible, only a few key strokes away from a response; post-mobile, you are constantly "online" but this hardly means interruptible or ready to respond.

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From: Matthew Smith (Mar 13 2019, at 05:57)

I used to have a lot of friends I talked to on the old chat systems (MSN, Yahoo and Google principally) but I don't use any of them now. I use a mixture of Facebook (for online friends) and WhatsApp for family and work. Most of the friends I used to have on the old chat systems have moved to FB and others I've lost contact or fallen out with. It's a shame but these systems were every bit as commercial as FB is, just less successful (except Google Talk or whatever they're calling it now).

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From: Remenic (Mar 13 2019, at 10:04)

> > The second O in “FOO” stands for O’Reilly.

> It's the third: "Friends Of O'Reilly"

Then where did the O in USA go?

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From: Jed Christiansen (Mar 13 2019, at 17:03)

You were part of the hiring committee for Mandy Waite? After she was hired she worked with my team at Google!

I think the world of Mandy, and thank you for being a part of hiring her. :)

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From: Christian Hawkins (Mar 14 2019, at 13:57)

I have recently upgraded my outdated ejabberd and was delighted how all these new XEPs improve multi-client, persistent history and phone battery optimizations. Started up gajim on my desktop, conversations on my Android and now I can chat with my one remaining jabber-friend seamlessly switching between laptop and mobile. Hooray.

If only I could get all my friends back, that are now scattered between discord, irc, skype and slack... Oh, and WhatsApp, Signal, Viber and Threema...

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author · Dad · software · colophon · rights

March 11, 2019
· Life Online (1 more)

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I am an employee of Amazon.com, but the opinions expressed here are my own, and no other party necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my professional interests is on the author page.