Q3 2022Strange Loop, and research at Glide


this is going to be a shorter update.

As you might remember, I spent this quarter doing a research residency at Glide, where I prototyped a programming system for building custom components, focused on composability, re-use, and liveliness. We're working on a longer write-up, and I'll let you know when it's out. In the meantime, I recorded a short walkthrough to give you some sense of where we ended up, that you can check out below.

Most of my free time this quarter went into preparing for my Strange Loop talk about the research I've been doing at Ink&Switch. From what I heard the talk went pretty well though, and I enjoyed all the hallway conversations that it spawned. The video will be out sometime in the upcoming weeks on the Strange Loop YouTube.

With the little free time that I could find, I continued explorations of some ideas that I first started playing around at Gradient Retreat — using graphs to describe vector shapes, and querying them using Datalog. This project is nowhere near being demo-able yet.

Glide is a no-code tool for building mobile and web applications from spreadsheets — you provide your own data, choose how to render it from a set of high-fidelity components, and you can get to a working application in minutes. This incredible convenience comes at a cost, of course — if you need something outside the set of pre-made components, you are pretty much at Glide's mercy to make new one for you.

The main goal of the project was to prototype a possible future in which technical Glide users have more freedom in how their apps look and behave, while still keeping the convenience of easily assembling ready-made parts. We followed the intuition that at some level, some code, is ok — and the main question is how it's being packaged and composed into bigger wholes, and re-used at different levels of abstraction.

Below you can find a short narrated walkthrough of the prototype that we've built, to give you some sense of what we've made:

There are a couple of things here that I'm excited about:

  • creating a space for local developers (after Bonnie Nardi) — power-users who are comfortable working with small pieces of HTML/CSS/JS, and/or assembling complex graphs for other users to re-use
  • using the exact same components through nesting in the layout tree, and inside other graphs
  • the semantics of multiple inputs and outputs which allow creating components with custom configuration UIs, and packaging related functionalities together
  • this is already a part of Glide, but worth repeating ad nauseam: working with real data inside a live system — the changes that you make to your data tables, to your logic, or visual components refresh live and are always visible — you never have to simulate a computer in your head to figure out what values flow through the system

I know that Glide is actively hiring, and if that sounds interesting, feel free to reach out to them directly or let me know if you want an intro!

This quarter wasn't that great for my book-reading. I read a bunch of things, but can recommend only a handful of them:

On the web:

I'm writing this from ORD, waiting for a flight back home after Strange Loop and Ink&Switch get-together.

I'm looking forward to having more free time now that Strange Loop is behind me. I plan to spend my upcoming evenings making music, and noodling on this datalog-vector-shapes thing I mentioned in the intro — unless something more shiny catches my eye, of course.

In the meantime, wishing you a great autumn, and see you around in December (if not sooner)!

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I wrote a couple more thoughts (and recorded a video) about the project in this Q3 2022 newsletter section, and there's a longer write-up (and a live demo) at the Glide research page if you want to learn more.