I could have been a contender

…or how lack of ambition killed my competitor to GitHub

Researching my own backlog of blog posts to migrate over to here at Medium I came across this old post discussing some of my older projects going back to 2006 and I decided to do a little research around one particular project, hgfront.

What follows is a tale of sadness and procrastination and what could have been had I been a better developer. Or maybe it would have been nothing - but I like to dream that maybe in some alternative universe what happened below didn’t go down the same way.

Today, GitHub is one of the most popular destinations on the web for developers - in fact I don’t know any developer who doesn’t have GitHub account.

Any big project out there that is open source, and many private companies use it as the most productive way to share and collaborate on code.

Hgfront itself was a collaboration of several people - with myself leading the team and doing most of the design and coding and we had a simple idea.

We wanted to allow the management and creation of Mercurial respositories via a web interface - something that would allow more non-technical people to set up shared repositories.

At the time it wasn’t easy. You have to have an understanding of Mercurial’s web interface, Apache 2 and mod_python - and how to get them to all work together nicely.

We were doing this back in 2007 - as of January 2008 we came along at a reasonable pace (as this crudely made video on Youtube show) - we didn’t have a great design or anything too exciting but as a feature list, what we did have was:

  • Account and project creation
  • Repository creation and cloning
  • Issue tracking, with basic tagging and milestones

Github didn’t launch until April 2008, and I believe if we had the ambition then I could have actually done something with this. As it was no one on the team had the ambition to push through to release anything, and soon the project died. Bitbucket - a very similar project to ours launched soon after - and the rest they say is history.

Oh I was doing Gists too in 2006

In 2006 I also worked on a collaborative pastebin application called PasteMonkey. At the time most pastebin applications were pretty simple - they have a text entry, language selection and code output screen.

I wanted to build something different - so PasteMonkey was born. Out the box it had most of the standard pastebin features - including code highlighting - but also included:

  • A tab-based editor for code entry with dynamic resizing
  • The ability to fork and diff versions of pastes, and paginate through versions
  • Inline, per-line commenting (actually kind of similar to what is on Medium with the icons down the side)
  • Taxonomy of tagging entries, and a public discovery system

Of course all of this stuff was Ajaxy and JavaScript heavy - something that wasn’t that common at the time either.

I can’t find an exact date, but I think Github launched Gist in 2010 (and if anyone can correct me if I’m wrong?)

When I look back on this, it makes me kick myself - if only I had the ambition to push myself to do something with this software.

I remarked in a previous post I’m a bit of a procrastinator and it has lead to me being a 31 year old guy who had chances in the past and blew it.

I do believe where I live too had something to do with it - certainly at the the time Scotland had no entrepreneurial spirit - nothing like out in the US. If I wanted to do anything with this, I would have had to have based myself out of London and at the time was something I was not willing to do.

Of course things change - Scotland is much better at this stuff these days, but for me the time has passed on these projects.

I thought of trying to bring them up to date, even if just to try get some up to date screenshots - but I’m hoping to better use my time on some other projects that I hope finally I will push through that barrier with.

I also think it’s kind of funny that they both ended up as open source on GitHub.

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    Tane Piper

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    JavaScript developer living on the edge of a server stack of infinite turtles that go all the way down.