This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Moving On: Coworking, Really Simple History, and Flash Storage

Every so often I look back over the projects I'm doing and take stock. I have a little inner thermometer that I check in on from time to time, and if I'm feeling stressed out and not having fun anymore it gives me information and a clue that I need to revisit what I've been doing. When I feel this, I create a Not Do Do List and figure out stuff that I need to let go of. Lately, I've been feeling stressed out and not having as much fun, feeling like there is a monkey on my back, so I've been doing things like morning pages, meditation, visual journaling, and other stuff to see what I need to change.

On a deeper level, I've been looking over what I'm good at and what I'm not good at. It seems my natural role is as an inventor pragmatist. I initially create an idea that is different than what is out there, envisioning something wierd and different, then do the hard work of making it initially pragmatic and real to prove to the world that it should be taken seriously whereas before it was ignored. Then, about a year or two down the line, others show up who have other skills that I am not as good at but are very important at this stage, such as community building, event planning, and more. I'm really good at brainstorming an idea, prototyping it, and then taking it into the initial reality stage with working code that can be used in the real world, in real software. I'm good at release 1 and 1.5, but not as good at release 2 and release 3. I'm not good at organizing groups of people, creating events, or cranking on the same code base once the initial idea and implementation has been proven to the community. I used to beat myself up about this, but I've realized that I just have to focus on what I'm good at and create situations where others can help me at the things I'm not as good at.

I've realized there are a number of projects that I created that have moved beyond this initial phase and are now successful and standing on their own legs, and it's time for me to find new maintainers for them and let them go, put them on my personal Not To Do List so to speak. These are coworking, the Really Simple History library, and Flash-based client-side storage. I need to find new maintainers for some of these projects so I can focus more time and attention on Dojo Offline. Also remember that almost all of the time I spend on these projects is free-time that I don't get paid for, and I only have so many hours in the day to hack on cool new stuff.


I created coworking about 2 years ago. I had been working for a startup, Rojo, and wanted to go into business for myself as a consultant. However, I somehow wanted the community and structure of a workplace with the independence and freedom of working for myself, so I created coworking. Coworking was a way for independent contractors and workers to have a common space to work from, rather than hacking from home, with a more community minded focus. I rented some funky space from a small non-profit called Spiral Muse and ran it for about 8 months. Through a nice coincidence the Spiral Muse space was where I met my sweetheart, Bekka Fink, at a party months before. We couldn't store permanent stuff at the space, so I had to setup folding card tables every morning when I got there then break them down at the end of the day. For the first month I had no one, and just went to the space and worked there by myself, going through the action of setting up the folding card tables and wondering if anyone would ever show up. Eventually I had a full house, with an eclectic group of folks: a screenplay writer, a computer researcher, an open source hacker rolling his own computer language, and others.

From time to time people would drop by who were interested in the idea of coworking but weren't able to join the Spiral Muse space. I would tell them "if you were to steal this idea and make it your own, what would you do?" They would then wander off, a seed planted.

I had to close the Spiral Muse space after about 8 months since it was hard to grow within it's small size and it was getting hard to staff it; during that time those folks who had dropped by to check out the space started banding together to create an even better space, one that was larger and open more days of the week. This was the Hat Factory space, in San Francisco.

Since then coworking has spread around the world, with spaces already in or forming in New York, Paris, and more. There is an active Google Group with hundreds of members and a very active wiki. Coworking has been covered by Business Week, the New York Post, and more. Chris Messina and Tara Hunt are now the most active leaders of the coworking movement and are instrumental in moving it forward, creating events, organizing, and more. I've stepped out of an organizing role in the coworking movement to focus on other projects and am no longer a member of a space.

Really Simple History

I created the Really Simple History (RSH) library about two years ago. It was one of the first libraries to effectively solve the history and bookmarking issues inherent with Ajax applications. I had two goals with RSH: one, to show that history and bookmarking were important in Ajax applications (most developers at the time thought you could just throw this feature out and ignore that you were working in a browser); and two, that you could achieve this in contemporary web browsers using various browser tricks.

Today, RSH is used by a huge number of websites to solve Ajax bookmarking and history issues; it is also integrated into alot of other open source projects. Members from the Yahoo YUI team and the Google GWT team have told me that the BSD-licensed Really Simple History code base and techniques were instrumental in their own history libraries. RSH has been written up in online articles and books, and is now used by developers in their daily practice. Respecting the back button and creating a bookmark mechanism are now accepted practices in the Ajax industry, so I don't need to beat that drum anymore.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to do any real work on RSH for about 1 1/2 years. Important work remains: doing better QA on Internet Explorer 7, using one of the various Safari history/bookmarking techniques that have been discovered, fixing some bugs that can occur in various edge cases, and more. My focus on Dojo Storage and Dojo Offline have not allowed me to do work on this library; I am constantly getting emails with bug fixes and inquiries, and I feel terrible that I haven't gotten a new release out the door for awhile.

I am looking for a new maintainer for the RSH library. I want to make sure I find someone who will treat it well because alot of folks depend on it, so if you are interested please email me (bkn3 AT AT and give me your qualifications, open source experience, and where you plan on taking the library.

Flash-Based Client-Side Storage

I've been hacking on the offline web problem for a few years. I knew before I could work on offline access to an application's user-interface, though, I had to figure out how to store data permanently on the client-side, beyond the 4K cookie limit. About 2 1/2 years ago I started searching around for a way to do this, experimenting with giant bookmarklets and other wierd stuff to see if I could find a clever back door. I then realized I could use a hidden Flash applet to store megabytes of info.

I rolled a prototype of this Flash based storage called AMASS (Ajax Massive Storage System) to see if the idea was tenable, and it turned out to work well. I then rolled another version of it and refactored it into Dojo, and got it to work in Safari as well; I also did a bunch of (grotty/interesting) hacks to get it super-fast for storing large datasets.

Once Flash-based storage stabilized, I moved on to the other part of the offline problem, which is finding your user-interface when you are away from the network, and rolled Dojo Offline in partnership with SitePen. Of course, one month after we released Google released Google Gears, a similar offline solution, so we created a partnership with them to port the Dojo Offline APIs on top of Gears. I'm in the middle of coding that port now. The next release of Dojo Offline will include a Dojo SQL module to use SQL-based storage, and a new Dojo Storage provider that uses Gears to store its data. Dojo Offline will no longer be dependent on the Flash Dojo Storage provider or the Firefox 2 Dojo Storage provider, and I would like to find a new maintainer for those. My preference for client-side storage is now to use Dojo Storage in conjunction with Google Gears. There are a number of startup companies that are using the Flash storage provider, however, and many users have told me they want to keep it; there are a number of enterprises that are also using it. I will port the Flash Storage Provider to the new Dojo 0.9 release that is coming out soon, but moving forward I would only like to personally maintain the GearsStorageProvider and the public Dojo Storage API. There are a number of cool performance and bug fixes that folks would like to get into the Flash Storage Provider, and this would be a great way to get your feet wet with the Dojo project. Please email me (bkn3 AT AT your qualifications, open source experience, and future plans for the Flash Storage Provider if you would like to take this on.

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Thanks for keeping the Dojo Storage alive for the upcoming dojo 0.9 and creating it in the first place! It's really great a great piece of code as it works without any separate alerts/prompts unlike plugins.
I feel similarly about XSPF -- my part in that should be complete.
Saw your name mentioned on 'WebWorkerDaily' and came to check your site.
I met Tara and Chris at South by Southwest.
After attending the 'Future of Online Advertising' conference in New York i was discussing the concept of CoWorking with my friend Ramon who writes while on the train back to Montclair.

Maybe it is about doing better rather than more.

Take care

'The French Guy from New Jersey'
Wondering if you're aware of Michael Slusarz' fork of RSH. He's been developing it since Sept. I use it just like RSH.

I can't manage to download AMASS (it just re-directs me to and it seems like no longer includes the Flash functionality, and I can't get dojox.flash to work (using Dojo 1.0). Google gears won't work for our business model (requires client to install something), and I can't manage to find any usable derivative of your Flash storage code to use. Can you direct me on which package I should use for this (whether it uses Dojo or not is a non-issue for us) and where to get it?

Pat Gannon
@Patrick: AMASS is no longer supported. However, a few days ago I put out a new release of Dojo Storage that renables the Flash Storage Provider and makes it more reliable and simpler. Look for that to go out in the Dojo 1.1 release coming out soon. If you need it sooner I might be able to put together a ZIP file for you, but note that would be using the tip of Dojo in Subversion. Ping me at b_r_a_d_n_e_u_b_e_r_g @t (remove the _ characters and change @t to @).

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