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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stephen invented the various Devoxx-related conferences and has done a fine job, contributing to the structure of the software commmunity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
This is of course PragDave; I don’t know anybody in the world more accomplished at writing about software.
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.
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.
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.
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.