Community service

I returned from Spain at the weekend after a really enjoyable time at Fundamentos Web. The conference was very well organised and had a nice grassroots feel to it (helped, no doubt, by the very, very reasonable ticket price of just €130 for two days!). My sincerest thanks to Encarna, Martin, Andrea and everyone else who helped put the event together. It was an honour to be invited.

After the conference proper, Tantek taught a one-day microformats workshop. I might be a bit biased but I thought he did a great job. But I think I was even more impressed with the audience and the smart questions they were asking.

In fact, the best thing about the conference wasn’t any particular presentation or panel—it was the people. The language barrier didn’t get in the way of having a good ol’ natter with fellow geeks. I was introduced to a Spanish web standards community called Cadius. They have meetups in various parts of Spain to drink and discuss design and development… my kind of people.

I count myself very fortunate to live somewhere where there’s a vibrant real-world community. As I’ve said before, Brighton seems to have an inordinately high number of geeky gatherings. Why, on the very night that I got back from Spain, I found myself playing Werewolf thanks to Simon and Nat. The night after that, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Steven Pinker (hey, language geekiness is still geeky).

The most recent Brighton geek meetup I attended was the £5 App where local entrepreneurs and developers get together to showcase things they’ve built. This time, it was my turn. I gave a talk on the past, present and future of The Session.

As it turned out, I had quite a lot to say. Without really intending to, I spoke for about two hours, occasionally demonstrating a point by playing a quick jig or reel on the bouzouki. I’m sure I must have bored everyone senseless but once I got started, there was no shutting me up. I touched on some of the technical aspects of the site but mostly I focussed on the community side of things, recounting how sites like Fray inspired me to start getting stuff out there—if there was one downside to being at Fundamentos Web last week, it was that I didn’t get to see Derek Powazek who was in London for The Future Of Web Apps.

I decided to forego slides for my £5 App presentation but I did put together an outline of points I wanted to make. I hope I managed to put the site in context of the aural and written history of Irish traditional music, focussing in particular on the rip-roaring tale of . For the record, here’s the outline in format:

  1. Irish traditional music
    1. Itinerent harpers, e.g. Carolan composed tunes.
    2. Traveling dancing masters. Pipes, fiddles, flutes and whistles.
    3. Dance music:
      1. Jigs—East at Glendart
      2. Reels—The Wind that Shakes the Barley
      3. Hornpipes—The Rights of Man
      4. Slip Jigs—Hardiman the Fiddler
      5. Polkas—Jessica’s
      6. Slides—O’Keefe’s
    4. Usually no known composers.
    5. Aural transmission.
  2. Francis O’Neill
    1. 1848: Born on August 28th in Tralibane, County Cork.
    2. 1865: Ran away to sea. Mediterranean, Dardanelles, Black Sea.
    3. 1866:
      1. Liverpool to New York on the Emerald Isle (meeting his future wife, Anna Rogers).
      2. New York to Japan on the Minnehaha.
      3. Shipwrecked on Baker’s Island.
      4. Rescued by the Kanaka crew of the Zoe: 34 days to Hawaii.
    4. 1869: Teaching in Missouri before moving to Chicago (sailing the Great Lakes).
    5. 1873: Sworn in as a policeman. Shot a few months later by a gangster (bullet never removed).
    6. 1901: Chief of Police.
    7. 1903: The Music of Ireland.
    8. 1905: Retires.
    9. O’Neill’s 1001: “The Book”.
  3. Pub sessions
    1. 1947: The Devonshire Arms, Camden, London.
    2. No set lists. Not the same as jamming.
  4. Folk Revival
    1. 1960s: Sean O’Riada, The Chieftains, Planxty.
    2. 1970s: The Bothy Band.
  5. The Internet
    1. Mailing lists like IRTRAD-l.
    2. ABC format.
  6. The Session
    1. 1999? Original site with no domain
      1. Very little interaction.
      2. Weekly updates: a new tune.
      3. Email subscribers.
    2. Relaunch, June 3rd 2001, thesession.org
      1. Member profiles and tunebooks.
      2. User-submitted tunes, recordings and links.
      3. Discussions.
    3. Incrementally:
      1. Sessions.
      2. Events.
  7. Community management
    1. One rule: Be civil.
    2. A little attention every day.
    3. Benevolent dictatorship.
  8. Tech specs
    1. LAMP: Linux Apache MySQL PHP
    2. Edit in place for admins… just me.
    3. JavaScript for progressive disclosure, faux pop-ups for forms
    4. Ajax for pagination.
    5. Lean, mean standards-based markup is good for SEO.
    6. Minimal use of graphics means speed, even on dial-up.
  9. Show me the money!
    1. Tip jar.
    2. Amazon shop.
  10. The Future
    1. More network effects from more user data.
    2. Travel section?
    3. Ratings?
    4. Better back-end code. An API?
    5. Expose more data like most popular tunes.

Have you published a response to this? :