When I saw in the San Jose Mercury News that SuperHappyDevHouse was trying to "recapture the spirit of the Homebrew Computer Club", I knew I had to drop in on their event. Having designed the meeting process of Homebrew in 1975 and run the meetings until we closed up shop in 1986, I wanted to be sure that legacy was not being misrepresented. So, along with Lena, I turned up at the Hillsborough house June 23rd where the sesqui-monthly hacker play party was scheduled to take place.
I knew it was going to be a zoo, having been announced on the front page of the business/technology section of Silicon Valley's newspaper. What I wanted to see was what the zoo would be like. Checking on the web page earlier that day I saw that the count had peaked at 116, a new record.
When we showed up that evening, we found the floor of the entry covered with shoes - the place had a shoes-off rule. Looking around I could see the living room and dining room of a medium-sized house filled with tables populated with hackers pounding away on laptops - three or four to each side of the tables. Row upon row of twenty-something hackers programmed furiously away on their laptops, presumably on group projects. Often I could identify groups where some were consulting with others, but it was otherwise a mystery as to what was being developed there at the Dev House.
Still, it was clear that many things were going on there on the network. Lena unlimbered her laptop and linked up to see what was on the website. I walked around after being greeted by David Weekly, the principal organizer of SHDH, as the event was abbreviated. A local venture capital firm had donated $500 towards refreshments, so there was enough to drink (though I limited myself to water, having had a little wine earlier in the day).
Upstairs several little groups discussed technical subjects without necessarily writing code. I could divine none of the topics, but then I am not a software coder and could not recite one fact about Ruby on Rails to save my life. Looking later at pictures taken during the event it is clear that not everyone began coding immediately upon arrival - several people I recognized from the tables at night are shown standing around talking during daylight. So it was organized as a party where people got together and formed groups to work on development of software.
I found no evidence, however, of any real-time indexing, other than entries in a wiki page of interest topics versus names. Some individuals had their own wiki pages, a few with pictures, though these seemed to be for regular participants.
This wasn't what we did at Homebrew. No one brought laptops because laptops did not yet exist. Neither did the Internet, wireless connectivity, Ethernet or all the programming languages in use at SHDH. It was a gathering of people who had heard about personal computers and wanted, or needed, to learn about all of the aspects of personal computers so they could use them. When the first computer kits were introduced in 1975 their prices were proudly announced ("$297 to build your own minicomputer") but no one mentioned how much you would have to learn to do anything with them.
The information necessary was not available through formal education courses, but could only be obtained through informal connections and discussion. It was these that Homebrew existed to make possible. Our meetings were structured to make such connections possible. First, after I gave a short speech for orientation, we had the "mapping session", where the audience paid attention and one person at a time rose when called upon to tell why others should get in touch with him (or her, but it was almost all male). I let them speak until they started to go into detail about their particular issue, whereupon it was my task to break up the discourse with a joke. If I did not do this I could see the lights going out all over the audience.
The theory was that mapping was for the transfer of "secondary information", which amounted to various tags having to do with interests, as well as letting people see your face so they could identify you later, during the "random access session". This was the time for transfer of "primary information", or the content of the intended communication, to the few people who were really interested.
It worked well. 23 companies, including Apple and Infoworld, were started by the attendees of Homebrew, as best we could determine.
There was only one electrical outlet accessible to the audience the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center lecture hall (capacity 275), and this was consistently monopolized by Steve Wozniak, who showed off his development work on the Apple I and later the Apple II. He was, therefore, the only one who could anticipate the SHDH way of doing things by actually running things and showing them off during random access. Woz was too shy to get up and make announcements, but he had a loyal following and there was always Steve Jobs lurking about and listening to everybody else.
I conclude, therefore, that SuperHappyDevHouse needs to develop a more structured process of exchanging secondary information leading to the exchange of primary information. There are many tools now available for this process, and the hackers who can shape these tools are the SHDH denizens. Given the willngness of SHDH organizers to keep the party going, we should be able to put together something that would work, and not only in one place.
For some time at SHDH I discussed some of these issues with SHDH organizers. I expect to have some further discussions, and maybe we can in fact bring the Homebrew Club process into the world of today.
See <www.superhappydevhouse.org> for their announcements. Watch the skies!