It’s been almost a week since I returned from the snowy hackfest in Boston, MA. Thinking back, it was a really fun 4 days of socializing, hacking and discussing the future of snowy.
I departed Karlsruhe on Thursday around noon. Fast forward 17 hours and I’m in a hotel room in Boston. Air travel still feels like a miracle to me.
Friday we spent the day in Brad’s flat discussing the goals for the hackfest and laying out the work for the coming days. Meeting everybody in person was a really interesting experience, because even when communicating via IRC or bugzilla, I build a mental image of what a person might be like.
Saturday was the first day of the Boston Summit which was going on at the same time as our hackfest. This was really great because we as a group were able to use the excellent MIT infrastructure (blackboards and huge rooms with super comfortable seats. I wish they had these kind of seats at my university) but also slightly disctracting at times - with so many interesting sessions going on the at the same time. Luckily, I managed to stay focused for most of the weekend and partiticipate in the hackfest instead of the Summit.
One of the things we discussed was what the mobile experience in snowy should be like. We took some time to figure out how to transport all the features of the Tomboy rich-text editor over to a plain-text format that would be editable on a mobile device. In the end, we agreed on a variant of the markdown format that has a few extra syntax additions that make it fully compatible to the Tomboy format.
Another lengthy discussion revolved around note sharing - how to build an interface where users can share their note with “friends” without building a full-blown social network. We decided to use email addresses as an identifier for finding and inviting people to share a note with. Jeff Schroeder is now busy implementing this - once this is done, showing a note to other people will be really easy. What makes it awesome is that it syncs - you edit a note in tomboy on your desktop and a few moments later, whoever you shared it with will be able to view your changed note on the web!
We also spent some time discussing a new design for snowy with Jeff Fortin, who had posted some mockups in advance of the hackfest. We came up with some great ideas on how to make snowy a joy to use even with big collections of notes and also rethought the login page (which is currently dominated by an OpenID URL field - not user-friendly).
Apart from the many discussions we had, I spent the remaining time hacking on getting the snowy API to speak markdown so that conversion from the tomboy format to the markdown format suitable for editing could be done on the server. But on monday at lunch, while talking to Sandy about this, I realized that this would not work for encrypted notes (which will hopefully land soon) - needless to say I was not pleased because I had put a few hours of work into this over the weekend.
At first I was really frustrated but I soon realized that the primary reason for me to come to Boston was not to write code. The reason to come together and physically meet was to talk about things, make decisions, do things that are just not possible or at least a lot more difficult to do over IRC. We discussed a lot of things that needed to be discussed, we decided things that needed to be decided and assigned coding tasks to be done after the hackfest.
In addition to getting stuff done, the hackfest was also a really fun experience for me. As a relatively new member to the GNOME community, I was pleasantly surprised about how welcoming and friendly everybody was to me and how fast people that I had never met before became friends. Meeting all these great people really reinforced my feeling that GNOME is the right project to contribute to.
Jeff Fortin took a lot of photos along the way. You can ready his blogpost about the hackfest here: http://jeff.ecchi.ca/blog/2010/11/12/snowy-hackfest-boston-summit/. He has also got a great video up which captures my feelings about the hackfest very well. Go ahead and watch it now. (I agree with his assessment of the shower UI - I showered with cold water for 2 days until Paul Cutler explained the confusing interface to me. Refer to Jeff’s blog for pictures).
I would like the thank the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel to Boston. It’s a long way from Germany, but I think it was definetly worth it. I know I will be thinking back a lot to the great days I had in Boston, spending time with friendly people doing the thing I love: writing free software. Thank you!