Hello my name is Paul Ford. I set up tilde.club accidentally. You can send me email at email@example.com.
Update many years later: Some nice people took over tilde.club so it can live again.
Letter to the tilde.club mailing list.
When Mike asked if he could take over tilde.club I thought, "What sort of utterly ridiculous motivation could drive a person to volunteer to be sysadmin for a large group of opinionated creative-tech types who constantly forget how to log in?" Later I realized that described me, too. He was respectful of what people had made on this little server and wanted to see if he could make more fun happen, and that is a great goal. After a reasonable amount of back and forth, and looking around the growing world of the tildeverse, I felt comfortable giving him the (ssh) keys as well as the account backlog of 10,000 aspirants. I mean, what could possibly...
After the new server booted up I was glad to see that one of the first conversations to happen was about setting up a code of conduct, resulting in this GitHub issue: https://github.com/tildeclub/site/issues/2. When you read those other linked tildeverse codes of conduct you see that everyone in this new/old world shares the goal of creating something kind and positive. It's very reassuring.
From my POV, tilde.club was a fun accident that became an all-consuming month of late-night labor, thousands of emails, a lot of overthinking, and at least one (somewhat joking) offer of acquisition. It was also a real nurturing community that was making wonderful things online. But after that month I realized, with regret, that I couldn't give it much more energy. I probably should have given it away then but there wasn't such a clear path. I sent it upstate to live on the shame farm with all the other projects that give me recurring guilt. And kept paying the server bills.
In the intervening years I wrote a lot of articles for a lot of magazines and web publications, and a whole issue of Businessweek called “What Is Code,” which was kind of a breakout. Then I co-founded a digital product company called Postlight with my friend Rich. I still write from time to time, and code, too, but the company, and my twins Abe and Ivy, who are now eight, take almost all my time. The respective learning curves for capitalist CEOing and Brooklyn co-parenting are both steep and involve a certain amount of humiliation and coming up short, yet onward we go.
Enough on me—how great that there's a tildeverse, growing up in the meantime, fueled by like-minded people with their own goals? And that its citizens would want to adopt the original tilde.club and tend to it.
I like very much that we are all peers here. And I want to call a few people out. Tilde.club v0 had a wonderful group of advisors and sysops who stood right up to help me, and I hope you all know I love you very much. Thank you to:
It's been a bad four years, at least emotionally, for a lot of us, especially those of us who love tech and the promise of tech, or for those of us who like...fun. The lesson I take from tilde.club is that you can, at any time, for very little money and relatively little effort, stand up a tiny digital community that basically belongs to itself. And it's just as valid as any other community. I am certain we need more spaces like this, places where you can experiment and be both dumb and kind in equal measure and people either leave you to it, or help you along. So I'm glad this keeps happening, and happy to be a participant.
Okay it's been a spell. It's nice to see the tildeverse has happened.
My life doesn't allow for a lot of play these days. Part of getting older, part of running a company, part of being a father. But it's nice to see that this is a place of play and it feels good to have kicked it off.
I'm going to go to bed now. I have to finish an article in the morning.
What a year. Not my greatest year. Not my worst, though by any means. I wrote an entire issue of Businessweek and started a large-ish agency. Tilde.club hung out for a while and then went quiet, but for a drunken lark it was pretty great.
I didn't finish the book though, and I didn't launch my timelines/notebook website. Although I did join the gym and get a prescription for anti-anxiety pills, which I take only very rarely.
I've been enjoying reinventing myself as an entrepreneur. I've wanted to do real business for a long time, and you can barely do it in publishing—the odds against you are nightmarish. You can make work for yourself, if you are very very lucky, but you can't make work for other people, nor are there tons of opportunities to collaborate, at least not outside of academia. I like working with friends.
I don't know. I feel calm, somehow. I feel that I can sort of let my ego drift. I just want to finish my book. It's days away from being finished. I've never been blocked on something at that level before, blocks within blocks. Par for the course for books. The great fear is that it will simply be terrible and irrelevant.
Getting some coffee now.
Today we went to Grand Central Station with the kids. They looked at a train set and had tantrums. Everyone napped. Now they are back asleep.
My son got to eat chocolate custard and nearly lost his damn mind.
I learned a little more about assembly language and boot loaders.
I migrated all of my email into a searchable form and can manipulate it directly from within emacs. I have a single TODO list in org-mode that works across all of my many projects.
I need to resurrect anxietybox.com by popular demand.
I need to finish my book. I need to go to the gym.
I think it's probably counterproductive to make lists of things I need to do. I mean maybe I am a rock in a river and time flows around me. All I need to do is be that rock, until such a moment as there is some flood that turns me over and washes me away.
How would a rock in the river behave?
Also, what happened to Usenet around here? I miss it.
Anyway, I organized my email. I am down to inbox zero. I find that process intensely therapeutic. Also, the things that you might fear the most--those are your remaining ten emails in that inbox. In my case it was: A request to look at some writing; a request for coffee that I felt uncertain about; an email about a conference presentation that I didn't want to make; etc. But dear lord it lightens the load. One after another, slowly erasing. There's a big folder called TILDE:TODO. Anyone who wants to is welcome to work with me to triage it.
Gmail is a lousy interface for true email triage, IMO. I figured out how to make mutt work with gmail and ended up combining mu and mutt. Now I can search email through emacs, which is cool. I can dump my email to text. I can extract all of my attachments.
I played a couple of hours of NetHack, too. Great game.
But ultimately I migrated my life into a single large TODO list. And then I kept boiling it down. The problem is that too many things are just listed as tasks, obligations. No motive. So I have these things like:
* TODO: MIGRATE TILDE.CLUB TO NEW SERVER WITH DELFUEGO
Which is just a garbage task, honestly. Who cares about that? The real task is:
* TODO Work with Jason to move tilde.club to DigitalOcean, where we have free space and where I will no longer be the "owner" of tilde.club, thus freeing up money and emotional and psychic space for other activities.
So I've refactored my TODO list into that format. And an awful lot of tasks, when I got to the "why"--a lot of coffees, a lot of meetings--have no "why" associated besides that I don't want to let people down, and most importantly, I don't want to ever give the perception that I value my time more than I value theirs, otherwise my whole system of politeness breaks down. And I genuinely enjoy helping people. But holy shit I have no time.
The thing is I don't want to lose the opportunities that come my way to communicate. I don't want to get into the business of triaging emails and ending threads and cutting people off and making them ask THE REAL QUESTION. I have no interest in becoming an objectified node in some latent social graph, because that is very boring.
Like, if I lose that, if I systematize the way that people communicate with me, if I define rituals and rules and batch my emails and say that coffee can be done during these hours on these days, I lose something, and it's something very important to me.
Don't read old emails.
I returned to a short story I was writing, that I started months ago, over the holiday. A key part of the story is the resurrection of an old social club--that people would have a desire to return and connect with something that was dozens, even hundreds of years old that had been dormant. And while I was writing the story I kept going, I know I have a hunger for this sort of thing, but will anyone else respond? And then I realized that I'd actually done this here, that I'd acted out the narrative.
I also took a job, helping out at a big media company. I sit in a room and move PowerPoint slides around, and I think about the relationship between containerized microservices and large-scale magazine production. It's for a few days a week, just to get my head straight. I guess I'm not a person who can have hobbies. I can just have different kinds of work and activity. Although I like kicking a ball around with my kids.
Anyway, who knows. Here's another open thread in a world of open threads.
Needlepoint sent to me by the wonderful ~annika; it now hangs proudly above my desk.
I took some time away from here because I was tired and it was taking a tremendous amount of energy. When you work on projects like this there can be this sense that you must somehow keep it going and I was succumbing to that, which was pretty far afield of the original goal of having some fun and helping other people figure things out.
But it was great to log in after a week or two and see people still logged in, still doing stuff. A slower pace, of course, but that's fine, even good. There's no hurry. Lots of emails to read that are filed in a folder called TILDE; lots of donations to list on the home page. I decided not to feel guilty about it.
This is the email that's going out tonight to the many thousands of people on the waiting list.
Hello there. Some time ago you signed up to join tilde.club, which is just a Linux server on the Internet. This is great--we'd love to have you be part of tilde.club!
EXCEPT for one thing: There are thousands of people on the waiting list now. We can't support them all on one machine.
But other people stepped up. They started their own tilde.club-style servers. (And you can too, using things like puppet-tilde [https://github.com/nathanielksmith/puppet-tilde] or just improvising as you go.) We've started wiring those servers together via chat and Usenet news and (once we've configured it) email. Just like the Internet came together in the 1970s and 1980s.
At this point there are over 20 tilde.club-style servers looking for members. Here's what you do:
- Go to this page: http://tilde.club/~pfhawkins/othertildes.html
- Pick a club you like.
- Sign up using the sign-up link.
- Be a little patient, because it's just a person on the other side.
These people will send you instructions on logging in. We'll figure out how to collaborate going forward. Help where you can!
I want each of these little servers to bloom and connect to services. I've decided that, for me, tilde.club is a place to learn and to teach. I'm going to start doing little web workshops, teaching people various things that I know about building sites. Drop me an email if you'd like to be part of this. But please be patient, it may take me weeks or months to respond.
Taking a quick breath, the health of this...project...is okay. We have:
I wrote about tilde.club for the Message on Medium.
My therapist is not impressed with tilde.club. He pointed out that I have some serious obligations to provide for my family and a tendency to prioritize things incorrectly. Perhaps tilde.club is a place for me to hide from things I don't want to deal with?
He's an excellent therapist with 40 years of clinical experience. He has kids in their 30s who love and respect them and he talks about that, which is one of the reasons I see him, because that's what I want for my own life: He's 65 and four days a week he goes to work at his small therapy business, which he loves, and then he goes home to a wife whom he loves, and is in steady touch with his adult children. That's a good outcome for a human life and perhaps I can achieve that. However, he is terrible with computers. It took about half the session just to explain what had happened.
"Look," he said. "You have these priorities: Your family. Making money. Tracking your weight and managing your compulsive eating. Writing your book. Plus the articles you write to keep revenue coming in. And building your timeline website, which I understand is different from this new website?"
"Yes!" I said. "It is different but the new thing is not so much a website as a single Unix server on the Internet."
He was silent.
"Thousands of people want to join it," I said. "And a wonderful team has come together. It's not even mine any more. Tilde.club is for the people."
"I don't care about thousands of people," he said.
I mean, he's right.
As the session ended, he said: "Do you mind if I ask you--my home computer is a mess."
"Sure," I said.
"My computer has become incredibly slow. Is it possible that--my wife thinks it's because I burned out its--engine?--playing too much Snood?"
I explained that no, it was not Snood holding his computer back. He should play as much Snood as he can.
All of us have a long way to go, right? And we never get there.
I've been hankering to return to the old lo-fi form of writing that I used to do on the web, where I was free to pursue forms of expression without worrying about marketability and reach of said forms. A tremendous amount of my time as a professional writer is spent smoothing and explaining things to a mass audience. And so this can be a place where I can write about myself frankly and not worry about it getting shot out over networks or forced down people's gullets or seen as some extension of my personal brand platform.
It's been an interesting few days. I think this, meaning tilde.club, will settle down here a little, contract and calm down. At the same time there are hundreds of people who want in, in addition to the 600 people who are here. Friends want to bring friends. It's very hard for people to understand why they are being excluded and what this is. I didn't consider that when I started this, of course--that people would end up feeling left out and resentful. Because I didn't expect anyone to want in.
Sometimes I forget that people use computers but don't understand computers, because computing is not inherently interesting to them. That's fair; my wife works in construction and when she talks about concrete I become faint with exhaustion but I am also very happy to live in large, safe concrete structures.
That said, people don't understand how incredibly cheap and modern a typical cloud-based computer is; the interface may appear ancient but this tiny computer is exceptionally modern in every regard and undergirds the largest and most powerful web services ala Google, Twitter, etc. Culturally the language around Unix machines and web servers has not really become part of how people talk about modern network technology; they think in products and services and maybe APIs if they are fancy but the system itself is taken for granted.
So! In any case I have a lot of help and numerous people functioning as sysops, and more people who are willing to help. Plus donations. Server costs are covered for many months. And I'm writing a book of literary essays on web pages; that's actually supposed to be my real project at the moment.
I sort of want to publicly say where I am at. I don't know why I want to do this except something about seeing a terminal open and a text editor running puts me in a semi-confessional frame. And this is a good place to do it because it's got that mix of public/private that made the early web so great; people will only find it if they want to read it and it will never pester them otherwise.
I'm less nostalgic for old kinds of HTML than for the part of myself that was young and fearless and desperate to connect to the wider world. I get a kick out of the under construction images but, I mean, they actually are hosted and served on a perfectly modern boxes into browsers that are essentially virtualized supercomputers.
I've been using Unix systems continually since 1993 and they were old then. I'll be using them until I die, very likely; it's what I like to type into and there's likely to be some form of it around for decades. So for me this is less about nostalgia than return to form--there's been this immense flowering of system architectures in the world, but you can log in to a Linux Box and you're back to blunt talk and bash scripts, first principles. Do little things and build them into big things, one script at a time. Unix was meant to run on large, general-purpose industrial equipment and that legacy shows through. You use it control typesetting equipment and refrigeration systems. In any case: Some people may be having a flirtation with their college girlfriends, and good for them, but I've been here all along (along with tens of thousands of other nerds in the industry).
I don't know where that 5A came from but I like it.)
About a year and a half ago I left a well-paying consulting job to write a book of literary essays about how the web page changed culture for FSG. FSG is the best publishing house. I melted down a little upon getting the contract but didn't panic. But then I realized I was good and truly blocked. I'd never really had writer's block before. The writing I was doing was pretty bad. I couldn't make it gel. My editor was patient but I was furious with myself.
Well, I thought, I'd better make something then. I've never been the kind of writer who learns by interviewing people. I write essays based on how I synthesize the world. So, I thought, I'd better make some web pages. Because the web has changed so much--the web page has changed so much--that I need to go deep.
So that I might understand the subject of the web more fully, I built a site. And I went down yet another rabbit-hole--so I'm already down a rabbit hole with the book but now I go down one with the website, it is sort of rabbit-hole inception--to make a timeline of history that is also a content management system. That's called unscroll.com. I presented it very briefly at the XOXO conference. If you'd like to see a video here it goes:
But the basic idea is that Unscroll is a tool I can use to do all of my writing and thinking, so that I will actually be able to write my book using Unscroll. I'm writing a book about web pages so I made some web pages that will help me write the book. This is perfectly logical Internet thinking. Since the book and website are taking so long I have had to branch out and am making my living by writing articles for national magazines, and all of those articles are late which makes the book and the website later. I also consult for a few companies and built out a web archive for a magazine that has yet to be released. And I'm a father, of course. I always make time for that even while my brain is filled with spinning spirals.
In any case I started tilde.club. And it burst out in a very unexpected way, with several handfuls of people making things and finding joy. In the backchannel, dozens and dozens of offers of support, and stories of people meeting each other in the flesh to say hello, people building their first websites and feeling proud.
I believe very strongly that you preserve joy at any cost when it appears, and can trust it to come back to you. I have plenty of experience to confirm that this is absolutely true, too, that if you don't worry about money or influence but just try to help people do the thing that is the funniest thing to do it all shuffles into place and your life becomes happier in bizarre and subtle ways. And tilde.club makes a wonderful conclusion for my book; this is a story I truly want to tell, about the explosion of sheer pleasure that this has brought me; it brings home my ideas about the web--and has changed them, too--in ways I never imagined. But also: Further down the rabbit hole. I need to climb out and finish my other website so I can finish my book.
Because it's not just that there are a few hundred people on a tiny server as part of a goof. There are a hundred people to introduce to one another so that they might help one another; there is a council of sysadmins to be built, resources to be found, donations to be assiduously tracked for reasons of bookkeeping and general accountability. Backups to be made, privacy to be considered. There is an instant and serious set of ethical responsibilities around money and humans that despite my deeply ingrained ironic sense of human behavior--and the fact that this is one computer I turned on and that it was, and remains a big joke--must be observed or I won't be able to respect myself. Since I can't actually handle (emotionally or technically) having this much authority over hundreds of people's (often incredibly silly!) digital presences I need to work hard to distribute that authority as quickly as possible to as many people as will be able to maturely handle it; the longer I hold on to that authority the less good it is for me or for the people "here." I've already had three fights with my wife about this server. And I mostly want to look at hilarious web pages made by people.
That said, I know what to do next. I'm okay at the boring parts. I have a small group of people personally known to me, and smarter than me, lizard-smart, to help define what this should be. We'll establish a standup meeting and ticketing system for issues and goals. I have people waiting to help with money and admin should I need it. It will remain a folly but a well-run, organized, financially transparent folly that is eternally respectful of its users.
I look forward to the huge banner that says We are incredibly excited to announce that no one owns tilde.club.
I think this is what it means to live in an age of wonders. It's not all riding in the pilot's hammock of your solar-powered aircar, flitting from party to party around the world as micro-robots tend to your pedicure. For every wonder and source of joy there are human connections to maintain, people to introduce, kindnesses to suggest. It's a lot of work and I am behind on everything and need to go make some money, climb out of the rabbit hole inside the rabbit hole inside the rabbit hole. But who am I kidding--tilde.club is a fairly amusing symptom of my rabbit-hole tendencies, not even close to the root cause. This may collapse into dust or bitrot tomorrow--it almost definitely will! But—
—who am I kidding,—
—doing things that help people talk to each other is
the sweetest labor.
I am swimming
People just keep stepping up, offering to help me and to help each other. They started donating. I brought another 200 people onto the server. It's at about 50% load.
I'm working on a minimalist blogging platform. The idea is that you type:
And it brings up a text editor with the template in place, the date and so forth. Then a tiny harvester script turns that into chronlogical order.
Of course I still need to launch my CMS and finish my book.
I think my wife (~mo) forgave me for doing this when ~danbri got in touch with someone in our apartment building and had them slide $24 under the door. It's not entirely my weirdness.
As the uninentional caretaker of people having fun I feel some responsibility but instead of my typical mode of "shoulder it and sigh a lot and keep telling myself it doesn't really matter," I've decided to take this project seriously. And respect that a very new—well, too soon to call it a community, but a gathering—has appeared here, and they seem to respect each other and they want to do goofy stuff.
I'm not going to take it personally if that community fizzles out any more than I take it personally when people go home after a party. I expect it to settle down. But there's an eagerness in the emails I've been receiving that is honestly very touching, and I feel it too. There's nostalgia here, but it's a forward-moving nostalgia. Many people want to share in this experience, help each other learn, and make silly web pages that make fun of their friends. They are learning things, meeting people, and doing work. And for now they seem to feel freed up by the old unconstrained tilde accounts. Of course most people here are just kind of driving by and checking out the scenery. I don't expect everyone to be as interested in this as I am.
I feel an obligation—a welcome obligation—to enable it to continue, even if it means work for me. Frankly it's work I enjoy and it helps me organize my thoughts for the book I'm writing (a book about web pages). I like to tinker with systems and I have a raspberry pi in my closet. It just never occurred to me that hundreds of people feel some of the same curiosity.
Still! I have two kids, a book due in three months, a non-tilde website to launch, etc. Plus unsteady income (by choice). I should be very clear-eyed about what I can do and what I can't. I can't give this more than a few hours a week. In the email I sent last night (included below) I asked for help, and I asked for people who needed help and who wanted help to identify themselves so that I can help them find each other. And I asked for sysadmin support. All of that is forthcoming; people will be glad to help and my experience of the web has shown me that, yes, they really will. It should be possible to shore up tilde.club and if people want to scale it they can, by adding their own servers. I guess my "job" should be to introduce people who can help to each other, and to people who need help. And to do the same myself. I'll just continue to ask for help until this either goes away or grows away.
While I feel a responsibility of a host (literally) all I did was flip a switch. That is not false pseudo-founder modesty. Literally all I did is flip a switch and write a few shell scripts. Other people made APIs, started journals, and so forth. The community will take care of itself; if I did absolutely nothing tilde.club could work indefinitely. So I'll just trust that to continue.
Here is the email I sent to tilde.club last night.
So! Many hundreds of you are playing around on a unix server less powerful than a smartphone and making things like this and this. It is ridiculous and also pretty great and positive, and I'm going to do the best I can to help people get what they want out of this experience. Here are some answers to questions I've been asked:
- If you never got an email with your account info and password you can send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you make the subject "Need password" that would help. I don't mind. Give me a day or two to reply.
- Your friends can put their handles and names on a waitlist at http://goo.gl/forms/gRMRT1YBU4
- Some users want to learn more about Unix and the web. Some want to teach. Here is a form to use so that we can help these people find each other: http://goo.gl/forms/LT2bDgtmwH Please fill it out if you have knowledge to share or want to learn.
- There's no plan, no guarantees. The only goal is for tilde.club to be a place where you can make weird web pages that you might not want to put anywhere else.
- I don't expect to profit from this nor do I think I own it. However, I'd welcome help. It's turning out to be a lot for one person to do on the side. People are reaching out to see if they can help with sysadmin tasks, offering money, and talking about different ways tilde.club could keep going or grow—maybe to other servers as a kind of fun secret nerdy Internet. If you want to help, send me an email (email@example.com) and tell me what you like to do. We can figure out the details later. I don't need money right now. So far tilde.club has cost me about $11.00. If you REALLY want to give money right now I guess I shouldn't stop you—just PayPal firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll just put it right back into server costs.
- I started a github repo where we can put interesting scripts and hacks. The idea there is that maybe other people want to set up their own clubs--maybe even for short-term projects--and this could make that easier. Or if we get hacked this will make it easier to bring a new server back up. It's at: https://github.com/ftrain/tilde.club
Please don't hack the gibson,
(send me mail on the tilde.club box at ford I love mail in my terminal)
I have been spending a little too much time on tilde.club. I've received some gracious offers of sysadmin help which I will follow up upon.
Once again I find that I have taken a joke too far. This is kind of a life pattern. I think it's the people that do it to me: I've got a couple hundred interested parties now and they are doing work and actively building a community in the absolute most straightforward way possible. I want to respect that but it must also not overtake my life. Websites and people have a way of overtaking your life, unless you are smart.
Money is part of it. Just general anxiety. The mail server isn't working! Suddenly there are dozens of people who might want to use the mail server.
~dancohen had an interesting point, which is that:
Just as there is life in the most inhospitable places on earth, like the Mariana Trench, so can a social network arise on an anemic Amazon Web Services node.
But I think this is where unix always gets you. It's these ugly terminals and little commands and they are still what holds the Internet together in a very real way. So while they may be cheap and commoditized, they remain very powerful. It is anemic compared to a large social network, but incredibly rich when you think about the tools involved.
i like that people are drawing conclusions from this server and exploring and enjoying themselves. it really is exactly what we had in 1995. there is no programming, no nothing, just a server. to set it up i uncommented some lines in a configuration file and added about five different programs.
i thought about ten people would want accounts. i decided to let a few hundred in even though the odds of the server getting hacked or messed up approach 100%. i'll just back up the web directories and when everything is destroyed by some angry person i'll restore them or archive them. no guarantees.
i think what spoke to me all day was how people have a desire to make little pocket worlds and how great unix servers were for that. that was an experience of the early web, these little spaces meeting up. unix servers were designed as multi-purpose industrial machines for doing things.
also if you let people just kind of run wild they'll basically make a super bare-bones social network for the hell of it.
in any case it was a sweet day.
|did you know that