It’s been two months since I wrote to you. And what a two months it has been. This missive will be a sampler platter of updates on the projects I’ve been working on. Bon apetit!
In July, I made a trip to NYC for a conference (Funding the Commons, more on that below) and managed to squeeze in an in-person Tools for Thoughts Rocks meetup, as well as some live jazz. I must say, I was more excited about the meetup than the conference, and it did not disappoint. Collaborating with others face-to-face, swapping ideas and book recommendations, getting to know one another, and general banter; utterly delightful. Please enjoy some photos.
NYC and in-person proved the perfect opportunity for one of my favorite activities: an interactive workshop. I’m a big believer in using collaborative exercises to explore ideas together. We are smarter than me, and all that. A question I’ve been pondering for a while is the difference between mediums, notations, and tools. With a captive audience of thoughtful and tools-for-thought-y folks in a room for three hours, it was the perfect time to workshop that question together. With the help of Jared Pereira, Brendan Schlagel, and Matthew Siu, we designed an innovation game called Medium Mashup that can be played in small groups. If you’ve ever played The Thing From The Future it’s like that, but for Thinking Tools.
The game went well, considering this was the maiden voyage. The groups really leaned into it, and fun was had. After the game, folks were gracious enough to do a quick retrospective about how to make the game better and I came away with a page of feedback that I need to integrate into the game’s rules. Intrigued? I’d encourage you to try the game; you need just 3-4 people and about an hour. They don’t have to be software folks or even particularly interested in “tools for thought.” The main requirement is an interest in creating solutions for people through collaborative design. The rules are online on this page and you can contribute your edits and ideas here on GitHub.
My hope is to get to play the game a few more times and make the “cards” pretty, so that playing is as beautiful as it is fun.
As I mentioned, my trip to NYC was precipitated by the Funding the Commons conference. These last few months I’ve been investigating the economic models that underly open source software. Open source software operates like a “public good”, a commons that we all benefit from. And yet, there are well-known pits that public goods can fall into. The Funding the Commons conference acts like a magnet, drawing together individuals who are interested in finding new models for sustaining one or another public good, from scientific discoveries to privacy, open source software to public education. This shared vision unified a highly disparate group, creating a feeling of camaraderie and shared purpose.
I think Chad Fowler‘s tweet captured the vibe of the event well:
I just left the first in person Funding the Commons conference run by @ProtoResearch. Deep, thoughtful, diverse and earnest. I felt like I was learning from this crowd by osmosis. Haven’t felt this since very early @rubyconf days.— ‼️🔥CHAD FOWLER 🔥‼️ (@chadfowler) June 25, 2022
The hallway track was exquisite. I had a dozen or more excellent conversations, met fascinating new people, and came away inspired with ideas to experiment with and a reading list as long as my arm! And I’m tall; I have long arms.
All the talks were recorded and are available on YouTube, but let me direct your attention to a couple of my favorites:
Juan Benet’s Overview of Public Goods Funding in 2022 Juan is the head of Protocol Labs, the company behind FileCoin and IPFS, and one of the primary instigators of the Funding the Commons conference. In his characteristic style (slides inside of slides, anyone?), he presents a “long now” time horizon on why this matters and then gets all the way down to what we should focus on in the next year. Juan is wicked smart and thoughtful. Give it a watch if you want a good entry point for Funding the Commons broadly.
David Dalrymple’s HyperCerts If you’re looking for a mashup of mathematical hyper-spaces and economics, presented crisply and approachable, look no further. David is a polished speaker (I love his trick of having the talk’s table of contents visible on the far left side of every slide!) who is proposing a radically different economic engine for funding. I don’t know it’s practicable, but I’d love to find out! In any case, the talk was certainly thought-provoking!
Measurement Systems and Contributor Rewards: A Panel Discussion A confession: I generally hate panels. They’re usually rambling and uncoordinated, too short to get into the meat of any one person’s argument, and feature people talking past one another as they try to make their pet point. This panel, my friends, was not that. Expertly moderated by Michael Zargham, the founder of Block Science, each of the panelists contributed their expertise to a cohesive storyline around a vital question for public goods: how do we measure value in open communities and accurately reward those who contribute?
This won’t be my last Funding the Commons conference. Already excited for the next one!
You may have been following along these past months as I’ve been building a decentralized blogging tool with the help of Fission’s WebNative library. My main goal has been to “learn by building” about decentralized application architecture: how are they different from client/server? How are they better? How are they worse? What’s easier? What’s more difficult?
After trying out several metaphors, asking countless questions of my esteemed colleagues, and slogging through the internals of systems like IPFS and IPLD, the picture is clearer than ever in my mind. That’s a tease; there will be no picture in this update. Coming soon!
Throughout this process, we’ve made some improvements that simplify working with the WebNative library and now we’re building a brand-new WebNative application we’re calling the “template app.” It’s a clone-it-and-go quick-start for building a WebNative application that should get you up-and-running in mere hours (minutes?). It’s not quite finished, but you can play with the current deployed version here, clone the repo from here, or click through depatchedmode‘s excellent Figma prototype.
An important goal of the WebNative Template App is to provide a silky-smooth user experience. The architecture may be radically different, but the end-user experience should feel familiar, comfortable, and obvious. Decentralized authentication is key-based rather than password-based, so we’ve focused heavily on the authentication flows, borrowing language and screens from two-factor auth flows. Hopefully, some of the patterns we ship with the Template App will be useful and influence better UX across other decentralized applications!
VIM mode for editing. Bear didn’t have this, and I consistently fumbled moving between VS Code and Bear.
Store files in a local directory as Markdown. I have some other tools I’d like to integrate with my notes, and unfortunately, the Markdown lake is the gold standard for interop at the moment.
Not an outliner. I didn’t realize how much I hated outliners until I tried LogSeq and Roam. It doesn’t work for me.
I’m still “between two horses” at the moment, as I’m writing this in Bear, but Obsidian is bearable, pun intended, so I intend to complete the move in the next few weeks.
An idea hit me for a simple tool to save my computer’s clipboard contents to the filesystem:
A simple tool to save my clipboard items to a directory as files.— Jess Martin (@jessmartin) July 9, 2022
I can use my other file-based tools to search, edit, organize, etc.
Unix philosophy applied to a clipboard manager.
I explored a bunch of solutions and had some good conversation about it in this thread. I ended up installing the excellent, open-source Maccy. The main thing I’d like to do is trigger workflows that I write based on specific kinds of clipboard items (images, URLs, etc). I might come back to this in the future. If it intrigues you, I’d love to explore it further with someone in conversation. Reach out!
I decided to publish two of essays that have been sitting in my drafts folder, half-finished, for a year or so:
Hope you enjoyed the meal!