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threads.garden retro

Brendan | 2023-03-24

Here's a belated retro for threads.garden!

Haven't revisited since launching in December but it came up that it could be fun to do a retro, just with each other [that is: Brendan + Jared], reflecting on the experience and where (if anywhere) we might take it in the future.


I had a good time working on this, especially as a nice low key change of pace sort of way to end the year.

Something interesting with it being just two of us rather than all three. I think it probably would have ended up being better with all of us working on it, but this worked well for casual riffing and moving quickly. Curious to try a similar project but with all of us contributing (or otherwise playing more with small pairwise projects or even external collaborations!)

I do think it still maybe stretched on a bit long. Like we could have launched a simpler version finished within say a week or two (iirc it stretched over like 3-4 weeks part time!) Not sure if it would work better as a shorter but more intensive sprint. Or maybe like one sprint to launch actual barebones MVP and come back to revise and polish a little later.


Let's talk launch! It was fun to get this out there, and see a few folks play around with it, but didn't really stick / lead to ongoing use. Though I guess we don't have an easy way to see if anyone's been using lately, unless they proactively tell us. [Update: okay we can tell a little via Postmark logs!]

I think it had good vibes and some fun examples, but for someone coming in fresh not sure it's super clear how to use in the most effective way…or (since we may not know yet either) at least the way(s) we feel might be coolest or most interesting.

As I write this, feeling some obvious parallels with how we approach the Hyperlink app haha — basically just that the most important indicator is making a thing we want to continue using ourselves, and designing for that even if it makes it seem more constrained in some ways.

thread experiments

Looking back on the threads we ended up making as initial experiments. I started one with a short blog post on pattern languages ("patterns, pedagogy, p2p play") which was a nice excuse to dust off my dormant blog, but didn't get any real replies. I also tried another post "reading_retreat_rpg.txt" that was similarly kind of fun (and testing simple free blog-ish services) but again didn't result in a real thread.

We had our "threads.garden launch meta-thread" which was fun to talk about the thing itself! Kind of a one-off…but maybe the best example of having a clear purpose and set of participants (even if just ourselves) vs. one person posting a thing and sharing in the hopes of chancing on others who might join and add to it.

I had a few other ideas to potentially try, some more like general topics for semi-public conversations (like 'dreams for learning futures' or 'how would you build your own DIY graduate program?') Also thinking about how it could be fun to use for gathering e.g. a small group's contributions to a shared challenge like a daily creative prompt.

One thing I think we found it's NOT good for is list-making…a few people made simple collections via threads, which makes sense as a natural super easy way to test, but pretty clear it's an anti-example and that kind of thing better done elsewhere.

Also had the idea of like…threads of Hyperlink Spaces…but not quite right either, probably better ways to connect Spaces. Though some cool potential as a tool used in parallel to share artifacts in a more public way…

on constraints

I know you set out to keep this nice and simple on a technical level, and that seemed to work well. Fun to play with simple CSS, no fancy client-side JS stuff etc.

Some constraints with the actual tool were a bit arbitrary, like threads ending after seven days. Maybe a thing that could be removed or made adjustable. Some kind of temporal boundary does feel nice, but maybe just manually ending is enough.

One place with perhaps not enough constraint is…where to write! It was a good exercise trying to make a big list of places where you could theoretically post a thread entry (e.g. Kinopio, mmm.page, Figma, Google Docs…and I think we had like a dozen more haha) but also feels too open-ended.

Much simpler would be: threads is ONLY for conversations between personal sites. Anything you post in a thread should live on your own website. Some tension there because it can be easier to make a Google Doc or whatever, but also feels more diffuse. At the very least, a constraint of "writing in conversation" feels good.

future directions

Assuming we might revisit / continue iterating on this at some point, what directions would be cool to explore?

The biggest simple change I think that'd bring this closer to your original intent might just be enforcing all thread links to be from your own domain. A place to weave together personal websites, rather than anything on the internet. While that does cut out some of the fun potential use cases we mentioned, it puts stronger focus on the cozyweb conversational dynamic that I think we want to capture more.

Like…I was motivated to dust off my personal site and make a new blog post…once! To kick off a thread! But I feel like it'd be great if we had threads going regularly, and each one felt like this sort of casual invitation to post something, personal yet public, just enough nudge.

(And yeah part of that involves like a mental reframing from blogging-as-sharing-legit-essays to blogging-as-dumping-tiny-rough-provocations — not a software challenge exactly, but the right sorts of tools and contexts may help shift this frame in subtle ways…)

We had a little list of feature ideas but tbh nothing jumping out as necessary; I don't think we need like thread sorting or moderation etc. til we have way more usage. For now I'd say any changes should be in the interest of making it more fun for us to use it more! Like momentum for small blogging / writing experiments, cool ways to share output of Spaces we try, etc. Focusing on intentional artifacts + conversation.

If you're into it, we could try some very small changes / reframing and try a lil re-launch and see how it affects how others receive the project. I think we could scope it to like one day…less a v2, more a minor course correction + reminder this thing exists!