Lowering the Barrier

Making programming (everything) more accessible

01 Apr 2021

The Stream

I’ve begun to think of email, Twitter, news articles, Slack, voice messages, and any other interruption as the Stream. That’s not an original concept. Plenty of people write about “the flood of information” that we’ve had to deal with since the late nineties. Nor is it a particularly helpful metaphor. In real life you don’t watch streams for messages floating by in bottles. You hike along them, build bridges over them, fish on them, dam them up to harness their energy. But for whatever reason, in my head, I call the stuff zipping by trying to get my attention “the stream.”

For years I treated the stream as a single unit. I could either read and react to everything that came by as it came by. Or tune it all out and concentrate. Not surprisingly I’d go through periods of frantic engagement and quiet withdrawal.

Eventually, working at a company with thousands of employees across multiple continents, I had to learn pay attention to what I cared about and let the rest pass me by. And to assume that no one else had full context on what I was working on - I’d have to tell the condensed story over and over again.

One of the joys of working at a small company is that you can stay on top of everything. Every slack message, email, pull request. Everything.

As companies grow you trade away the ability to stay on top of everything in exchange for being able to pursue many different projects at once. For the initial employees, this can be a big adjustment. For people hired recently, it’s no big deal. They didn’t have a grasp of every single detail to begin with, and they still don’t!

The habits that worked in the early days gradually stop working. In particular, you can’t just talk about an idea and assume it will happen. You have to record it somewhere permanent. For us, right now, those two permanent spots are Asana and repls (the best repl to talk about work is our design docs repl).

In my own life, having Feeder batch up posts from a handful of Twitter accounts and web sites and send me a daily email has really cut down on the time I spend mindlessly checking for updates. Of course, I’ve still got parental controls preventing me from accessing a browser on my phone. And my /etc/hosts file is still in place on my laptop. It’s easier to stick to that regimen when I know I’ll be able to catch up on an entire day.

One of the key advantages we have at Replit is that we do more and more of our work inside repls. I’d love to make the repl that cuts down on the time I spend copy-pasting conversations I don’t want to lose out of Slack. And the time I spent pinging between different tabs trying to bring together the full picture of a project. There are plenty of enterprise software companies that would love to sell me a “solution.” But I think I’ll just go build the simplest useful thing. Yes, this is me publicly committing myself to writing code instead of just writing it.