Streak and Burning Man are in the title but I assure you that this post is G-rated AND family-friendly.
As of August 23rd I had contributed to open source for 66 days in a row:
Then, like any Whole Earth Catalog-carrying cybercounterculturalist living in San Francisco, I went to Burning Man.
I’m glad I did. 2014 was my 3rd and best year, thanks to this good-looking group of hard-working campmates:
The contribution streak started in June. The idea was to make at least one commit to open source software (OSS) for 365 days in a row.
My goals were to boost productivity and give back to a movement that has given me so much. I also wanted to inspire others to do the same.
To that end I tweeted my progress and I created the @oss365 Twitter account to recognize other “streaking” developers. It was cool. Other developers chimed in with stories about their progress:
As of today, October 30th, Lloyd is CRUSHING IT at 555 days!
Dieter a.k.a. ruleant is still going strong at 291! Coincidentally, he was just in SF this week from Belgium, so I had to buy him a beer:
That’s us in the back. Also pictured is the Mild-Mannered Mustachio of Community, @elof, and a friend of Dieter’s.
Other developers chimed in with words of support and encouragement:
This stuff was really inspiring and validating. It made the decision to end the streak in August really difficult.
I had planned to keep the streak alive at Burning Man. I brought my laptop. There are camps with WiFi. I figured it would take about an hour a day.
But there on the playa, in the moment, even one hour a day is too much. It would have disrupted the flow and gotten in the way of the playa’s special, mind-remodulating magic.
Call it cerebral renovation, it’s a big reason I come to Burning Man. I can re-center myself by radically changing the context around me. The context at BM is delicate, however, and inviting in even a little of the default world can damage it.
So I decided to let the streak lapse on the first Sunday. A few hours later I was blissfully cruising the playa with, as Dustin would affectionally say, ”these dorks”:
How often do you get to ride bikes on the moon with your best friends? Not nearly enough.
I’m not the kind of person that streaks. I live a pretty routine-free life, complete with its fair-but-welcome share of interruptions. I haven’t had a 9-5 in forever, and even then it was consulting and travel every week – not exactly predictable.
Today the more open my calendar the less anxious I am and the more creative I’ll be. This is why a contribution streak was intriguing. It would be different and structured and challenging. I would learn something.
Learn I did. I reinforced an obvious-but-important belief that one commit leads to another. I learned that even I, the un-routiner, can increase my productivity by adding a little structure.
But I also learned that streaks are a dangerous thing for someone who lacks a real routine to hang them on. In the absence of routine context is allowed to shift freely, and streaks don’t appreciate these context switches. The resulting tension between continuity and spontaneity creates stress, and worse, it can be unfair to the original intent of the streak. What if I only made it 364 days? Is that a failure? No way. Compared to any lesser number of days it’s a victory, maybe a big one. More open source software still exists.
If streaking isn’t the right road to reward, than what is?
Streaks break a bold, abstract ambition down into concrete, bite-sized chunks. Small chunks are easier to start and easier to finish. This much we know.
But the oft-overlooked connection is that streaks are also a mnemonic, a memory aid. They’re a cheap and consistent way to remember that the bold, abstract ambition still stirrs. If I’m searching for a streak substitute, it has to be something that keeps the goal top of mind; something I’ll see all the time.
I think a strategically placed open source contribution dashboard could do just that. The dashboard would show stats like:
- How many commits have I made so far this week? This month?
- How many different projects am I committing to?
- How many new stars or contributors do my projects have?
Data Plus Dashboard
Since it’s no longer a daily streak, I’ll need something beyond just Github to track the data. I’ll use Keen!
I’m already tracking my Github activity in Keen using the github-webhook-collector utility I made a few months back. I can make the dashboard using the responsive templates that were just announced yesterday. Alex and I are going to pair on this next week when he’s in SF.
The next question is where to put it physically. A 55” display right next to my desk? Maybe not – that’s a little too much reminding. Of course if you want to buy me one I will consider it.
What about the New Tab screen in Chrome? Or I could use Pushpop to send me an email report of my metrics every so often.
There’s lots of possibilities and I’d love to hear any other ideas you have. The project will (obviously) be open source so you can set up your own contribution dashboard and contribute too.
Thanks for wading through my personal journey of commit streaking! Come along for the rest of the journey in the upcoming weeks and months. My hope, true of anything I write, is that you find something that’s applicable or useful to you.
I actually do own a bound copy of The Last Whole Earth Catalog:
It cost me more than $5, but it’s been worth every penny.
Access to tools.