Building the Future of Spaz

1975: And the Changes To Come

Spaz has been around a long time: since early 2007, which I think makes it 77 in Internet Years. It’s been a while since I started playing with the Twitter API in RealBasic, and later under AIR after I saw the Pownce desktop client and wanted to make my app look cool like it.

A lot has happened since then. A lot of cool stuff with Spaz, and lot of cool stuff for me, and a lot of sometimes cool and sometimes not so cool stuff with Twitter. Now we have a desktop client, still on AIR, and a native mobile client for webOS. Spaz isn’t SUPAR POPULAR, and it’s not proved to be anything but a giant time and money sinkhole, but it’s been a very fun ride.

Through all of this, Spaz has stuck with open technologies: JavaScript, HTML and CSS. We’ve done so because we’re dedicated to true openness and transparency. The Spaz Statement of Purpose spells out the project’s reason for being. And in the light of Twitter’s moves to make the microblogging client scene more of a closed monoculture1, the significance of Spaz as a counter to closed technologies is greater than ever.

After some recent events – a big career move for me, some horseshit policy changes by Apple, and some disappointing moves by Twitter – I decided we needed to assess where Spaz is headed. So, like any good open source project guy, I went to IRC: I called a meeting on Freenode in #spaz. Turnout was encouraging, and we made some important decisions.

Here’s what’s going to happen:

Most urgent: implementation of OAuth/xAuth by June 1

In June, Twitter is shutting off HTTP Basic Auth support. For client apps to function, they must start using OAuth or xAuth. Spaz Desktop has been approved to use xAuth, an OAuth variant where the user enters their username and password, and the server exchanges these for an OAuth access token. This means we can support a more typical user experience, but don’t have to store credentials anywhere — we just store the access token.

Earlier this week I added support in the SpazCore Twitter library to authenticate with an OAuth access token instead of Basic Auth. This should allow apps using SpazCore to use either Basic Auth (for systems that still support it, like StatusNet) or OAuth/xAuth. Much more needs to be done, though, to get Spaz Desktop and Mobile ready.

Short term: get Spaz Desktop 0.10 out the door in June

The Spaz 0.9 branch, which is the development branch for 0.10, has been stuck in dev for far too long. The codebase has been refactored considerably, and a number of cool features either have been implemented or are planned, but it needs to actually get ready and usable. We need a push, and assistance from a number of motivated folks who are willing to put the time in. Our 0.10 milestone entry on spaz.lighthouseapp.com outlines the various tasks that need to be completed.

Longer term:

1. Move Spaz Desktop from AIR to Titanium Desktop by October 2010

I’ve been a big fan of Appcelerator’s Titanium for a long time, and their Desktop product offers a compelling alternative to AIR for these reasons:

  • Titanium is a true open platform: open source with a liberal license
  • JavaScript is fully a first-class citizen in terms of language support2
  • Titanium allows leveraging Ruby, Python or PHP
  • Better Linux support
  • Web Worker support
  • Full interaction with external processes
  • Native installers for each supported platform that includes the runtime

The big knock I see against Titanium is poor documentation, and that’s something I really hope Appcelerator works to rectify.

All in all, though, Titanium is a better fit for us, technology and philosophy-wise. Porting to Titanium is probably about 20 hours of work as it stands now.

2. Start development of web-based mobile/tablet client

I really like powerful mobile devices, and I really like multitouch tablet devices like the iPad. What I don’t like are the restrictions being placed on developers by companies that refuse to be transparent about their policies. I think the way around that is to make a great mobile/multitouch web app.

A web app will also make Spaz available to all devices with mobile webkit browsers. It would run on Android, Palm webOS, and likely BlackBerry and Nokia devices (I’m not super familiar with those, but I believe they have webkit browsers now or will soon).

While Spaz will be a hosted web application, it will still be FOSS, and anyone would be able to get the source and set up their own install. In this sense, it would be an interesting complement to StatusNet.

If folks are motivated to create native clients for their preferred devices, that’s definitely a possibility — either with a wrapper system like PhoneGap, or a native UI system like Titanium Mobile. It just would not be, at least initially, a primary goal.

What about webOS? Not sure right now. It requires dedicated folks who will keep up with it. Nick Carter has helped a lot, but we need more help, and/or we need to leverage the stuff we do in the web-based mobile client. That may necessitate moving away from Mojo as a framework, though. Palm’s dev relations team has indicated that they are interested in making web apps first class on their system, though, and I suspect they’ll have some interesting stuff to make that possible.

3. Target StatusNet as a top-tier service

StatusNet has always been a favorite service of mine. They match our principles, and I think Spaz as a FOSS client and StatusNet as a FOSS service complement each other well. StatusNet needs better clients, and I think Spaz is decently positioned to be a part of that. So, I think we should create a StatusNet API library to support any StatusNet-specific features available, and implement support for this in Spaz.

We should also consider other services, like Facebook and RSS feeds. The first step would be developing SpazCore libraries for these.

How to help

If you’re interested in helping with Spaz, here’s what you can do:

You don’t have to be a programmer. We will work with you to learn new skills. All you have to be is interested in building something cool with us.


  1. Reducing choice is one of the reasons (maybe the primary reason) for Twitter’s purchase and repackaging of Tweetie as The Official iPhone Client. As Tweetie’s source is unlikely to be released, it does seem that we’re reducing choice and becoming less open/more closed. That isn’t necessarily their goal, but it’s a consequence. 

  2. Adobe has, as an organization, not demonstrated that they consider JavaScript as important as Flash within AIR. Feel free to search this blog to find more on the subject. 

  • Daniel "warmth" Delgado
    http://hi.im/warmth
    04/24/2010 11:05:17 AM

    Count on me Funkatron!

  • Zach Ellerbrook
    http://zachellerbrook.wordpress.com
    04/24/2010 02:16:37 PM

    I was deciding which twitter desktop app to use, and reading this post persuaded me to download Spaz. I thought you might like to know.

  • funkatron
    http://funkatron.com
    04/24/2010 02:26:01 PM

    @Daniel, I’m glad to hear it! Thanks!

    @Zach, Thank you!

  • Zach Copley
    http://zach.status.net
    04/28/2010 03:37:09 AM

    This sounds like an awesome future for Spaz! Hopefully, I can lend a hand at some point.

  • M. Edward (Ed) Borasky
    http://borasky-research.net/
    06/03/2010 08:19:36 PM

    I really enjoyed your OS Bridge talk today! I’m curious though - have you been able to decipher the Appcelerator Titanium desktop documentation? I downloaded the whole enchilada when they announced their 1.0 release. It looked like the mobile version, assuming you also downloaded “kitchen sink”, was well documented. But I couldn’t make the desktop tutorial application work except in JavaScript. And I couldn’t find any documentation at all on how to debug it. So I gave up.