Meeting Free Software Federated Folk in Meatspace

Meeting people in person for the first time is always kind of awkward – especially if you’ve never seen them before, and you also happen to really respect their work. You can find yourself walking down a long road with growing anticipation of things getting real. You’ve never been to this Mexican restaurant before, you’ve never met this person, who knows what could happen?

I got to meet Chris Webber from MediaGoblin while I was visiting San Francisco. I usually feel sort of antsy when I meet people in person for the first time, but that all evaporated as soon as we shook hands and said hello.

Chris has a great personality. It was wonderful talking about our different points of view on federation, and the schools of thought that have come up surrounding different implementations. We talked for three hours about Free Software, desktop environments, project philosophies, federation concepts, and our grand hopes and dreams for things we wanted to see succeed. He even told me a good Richard Stallman story!

There’s actually a lot of really interesting things going on in the Free Software space as of recently. Of note, GNU GUIX is under a lot of promising development, and could provide a better way forward for deploying packaged web applications, and rolling them forward or back from upgrades. To some effect, such an effort could make non-PHP open source web applications easier to package, install, and use with relatively little setup required on the user’s part.

Chris invited me to an SF Free Software Users meetup called Beowulf Cluster. We all crowded into a pie shop and many different kinds of conversations came up about what we did for a living and what we were interested in. Some guys talked about QA, others discussed semantics of their favorite tools and projects.

I got to meet Asheesh Laroia from the Sandstorm team. Sandstorm is extremely interesting to me, because it is a Free stack that effectively allows you to host and launch apps like a containerized Heroku – you can also host all of it on your own hardware independently. It feels a bit like Google apps, but with a much wider selection, and everything is sandboxed. The concept of an easy turn-key service for hosting a Diaspora pod is extremely appealing to me.

We talked a bit about packaging Diaspora for that platform – at some point, someone from their community had tried to package it. Some questions remain about how Diaspora’s components work in terms of in-bound and out-bound connections, and Sandstorm is a sandboxed environment for apps that can share data with each other from inside of a host. I hope to answer their outstanding questions sometime soon to get a better idea of what would need to happen.

All in all, these moments were the highlights of my trip this time. I was super glad to have met Chris and see a real Free Software hacker in the flesh.