September 2020


As the family has gone back to school September seems to have whizzed by, with fewer interesting things to report on as life settles back to a weekly routine. I’ve mentioned the punctuations of comedy nights and online whisky tastings before, so there’s little new to report…

Frontline Live

My amazing friend Katz Kiely set up Frontline Live in the early days of the pandemic to help frontline health workers get access to desperately needed personal protective equipment (PPE).

As things have settled down she thought that the site should be backed by a registered charity, which I’m pleased to say I’m now a trustee for (after it got set up in what seemed like record breaking time – about a day and a half from submitting the docs to getting approval).


My colleague Caitlin McDonald got an awesome new profile pic from Covatar. So I got one for myself. What do you think?

Tech stuff


I got to know Mark Chmarny during his time at Google, but he’s now at Microsoft working on Azure stuff and he suggested I take a look at Dapr. It’s described as ‘An event-driven, portable runtime for building microservices on cloud and edge.’, and there’s a bunch of good samples and examples for it on GitHub, which provides an easy on ramp for people to get started.


Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been a fan of asynchronous messaging and event driven architectures since the early 2000s as the Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) took shape. I first met Derek Collison as he did due diligence on VMware’s acquisition of RabbitMQ, and he’s somebody who’s been into messaging since pretty much the beginning, as Tibco created Rendezvous and then Enterprise Message Service (EMS nee E4JMS).

NATS came along as Derek was creating Apcera, and since the sale of that platform he’s focussed all of his attention on the messaging platform.

I remain convinced that most of the complexity in enterprise architectures comes from people using HTTP in places where it’s just not suitable (then having to layer on all types of guff to make up for that). I’d previously hoped that AMQP would provide salvation, and at one stage the ubiquity of RabbitMQ underlying infrastructure software fooled me that it had happened. But the complexity seems to be piling on above the platforms again, so I’m hoping that NATS can help people get back to simpler and cleaner architectures.

Raspberry Pi stuff

I wrote a while ago about booting my Pi4 from a USB3 attached SSD. This post from Jeff Geerling provides a deeper look at UASP, TRIM and performance.

August 2020



It’s been something of a busy month for blogging, with posts on Cloud Migration, Java, the UK exam fiasco, Hugo. and RIP Dougal.


The new Kamado Joe that I mentioned last month got its first run, which looked good, but ended up being a little dry:

Hawksmore @ Home

The Hawksmore at Home BBQ Box came out much better :)


I made a shelf to go beside the BBQ for extra prep area using some left over kitchen worktop:

It looks lovely, but despite the yacht varnish it already seems to be bowing and delaminating, so I’d be surprised if it lasts through a UK winter.

Cote de boeuf

Some friends recommended Handcross Butchers, which is local(ish), does online ordering and delivers to my area. I got a Cote de boeuf, which turned out amazingly – quite possibly the best steak I’ve ever had.

Could – Should – Would

On of my favourite finds on the web this month was ‘An Officer’s Guide to Breaking the Rules‘:

The CO hated being told that I couldn’t do something when he knew full well that I could but that the rules didn’t allow it.  So I agreed that we would discuss such things in the following terms: Could – Should – Would.  In the first instance I would explain what could be done, what was physically possible given the resources at our disposal, without any of the constraints of the rules.  I would then explain what should be done to be compliant with the rules, regulations, policy, etc.  Finally, we would have a conversation about what we would do, under what circumstances and when the operational imperative would justify setting aside certain rules in order to achieve the intent.  It worked.  I never told him something was impossible when it wasn’t, but we also (frequently) made defensible risk-based decisions to break the rules when the circumstances justified it.

WSL2 and VSCode

For many years I’ve been using a combination of Git Bash and Atom for development, but times change, and better tools emerge, so I’ve pretty much entirely switched to using Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) version 2 as my command line home and VSCode as my IDE. It’s very pleasant and productive.

GitHub Actions

I’ve also been trying out GitHub Actions for Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD), and they’re just like how I expected code pipelines to work (rather than the complexity horror show of Jenkins and its menagerie of plugins). Here’s my example repo hugo-learn-action-example.

New role

There have been a lot of changes at DXC since Mike Salvino took over as the new CEO almost a year ago, and as part of that wave of change I’ve taken a new role as CTO for Modern Apps & Cloud Native. I describe the new job as:

leading customer adoption of platforms, continuous delivery, and modern languages and frameworks

My post on ‘What are Modern Applications?‘ from earlier in the year provides a good background on the space I’m moving into.


Following a pointer from Charles Stross I bought myself the DVD box set of 1990, dubbed 1984+6. It’s a never repeated 1970s TV series starring Edward Woodward looking at a dystopian future UK under the boot of a Home Office ‘Public Control Department’. Right now, it seems far too close to a prequel of what 2021 post Brexit England is going to look like (except in the show it seems one of the few counterbalances to government power is EU membership and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – protections that are being torn away).

One thing that does seem consistent between fictional 1990 and real life 2020 is that the politicians and their civil servants seem greatly concerned with what the press has to say about them; or as I put it on Twitter, “Government of the press, by the press, for the press”

Beating Beat Saber

Beat Saber remains my favourite Oculus Quest game, and I use it for ‘fitness gaming’ workouts on the days that I’m not hitting the cross trainer. For the last few months I’ve been slogging through the levels of OST1 & OST2 to get ‘full combo’ at Expert level, and this month I finally cracked the final holdouts with ‘Unlimited Power’ and ‘Balearic Pumping’. Onwards with OST3 – ‘Give A Little Love’ and ‘Reason for Living’ have succumbed already; I expect ‘Burning Sands’ will be the last to fall, as it’s very long and complex.

I’ve found (particularly at Expert level) that getting full combos takes a different technique to getting high scores. I’ve been using a gentler, less energetic approach to making sure I make all the cuts, rather than high movement slashes through every block. I’ll be going back over some levels to see if I can push my Bs to As to Ss (and maybe even SSs), but ultimately I know I’m not top class at the game from my rankings (and also that I totally can’t keep up with Expert Plus levels).

For what it’s worth, I share my brother’s ire at Oculus deprecating their standalone IDs in favour of Facebook logins.

RIP Dougal


Born on 22 May 2005, Dougal came home with us on 16 July 2005:

He loved hanging out with other dogs, and had to run hard to keep up since he was little:

He loved exploring the local woods, and would join me for my daily trips to the shop.

Just last weekend some other dog walkers were asking his age and couldn’t believe he was 15 (many people still though he was a pup).

I know they’re all good dogs. He was a very good dog, and we’re going to miss him a lot.


Replace layouts/index.html with layouts/_default/single.html in your chosen theme. The home page for the site will be created from content/ and additional pages can be created at content/pagename/ (NB no _ before index that time).


$daughter0 has offered to build web sites for some friends and family members, which means she’s learning various aspects of web development, and I’m helping out with pointers, getting dev environments up and running, source control, hosting etc.

She found a theme that she liked for Jekyll (the default static page generator used by GitHub) in the shape of Hyde, but we quickly realised that was a (too typical for Ruby these days) journey into broken and deprecated dependency hell.

Luckily there’s a port of Hyde to Hugo, and having used Hugo for some work stuff I knew it was simple to use and actively maintained (thanks Steve Francia).

It didn’t take us too long to get a basic single page site customised with the right look and feel and published to GitHub pages.

And then she wanted another page, which took us into the oxymoronic world of multiple single pages.

The answer is right there in the docs

If you read carefully enough, the page on content organisation explains how things work. It’s just that like everything with super powerful and flexible frameworks, it shows how to do many things in many ways, which can make it hard for the uninitiated to see the wood for the trees.

When I finally figured it out the conversation went something like this:

$d0 – is it easy or hard?

me – easy.

$d0 – if it’s easy then am I stupid for not figuring it out?

me – no, because I’ve been right there with you scratching my head about it too.

For the record we spent far too much time picking through ‘Need multiple static pages – home, about, contact, prices etc.‘ and ‘Hugo: adding more pages to single-page themes‘. Sometimes Google and Stack Overflow have all the answers, and sometimes you’re digging through stuff that was overtaken by events dozens of versions back.

Docs are hard

Hugo’s docs are good, but there’s a lot there to understand, and for any given site it’s likely that you’ll need a small subset of functionality. So it’s really hard for the uninitiated to determine what they need to learn, and what’s superfluous.

There are also some great 3rd party intros out there, like Chuxin Huang’s ‘Noobs guide to Hugo‘; but if you follow somebody else’s footsteps you end up at the same destination. And nobody really wants a website that looks just like another. The whole point is customisation, but minimising the effort and blast radius of that customisation.

My own example

I’ve dropped a minimal Hugo/Hyde site demoing multiple single pages onto GitHub at cpswan/hyde-msp-example


Standardised tests like A Levels will inevitably have winners and losers, and in normal circumstances those people will usually know why they won or lost. For the losers it’s likely that they experienced some bad luck; but the key point here is that experience – they know why things didn’t work out. When that experience of bad luck gets replaced by an algorithm handing out bad luck outcomes it’s easy to see how a sense of injustice quickly builds; as the connection between experience and outcome has been severed.


This is a post about the unfolding high school ‘exam’ fiasco in the UK, where 18-year-olds are getting their A Levels that are the gateway to University, and 16-year-olds are about to get their GCSEs.

In any process like this there are inevitably winners and losers…

In an ordinary year


  • The kid who went through just the right past papers, so the exam hits the stuff they prepared for
  • The kid who slacked off all the way through, but pulled it out of the bag in a final push for the exams


  • The kid who was upset because their dog died that morning
  • The kid who got ill
  • The kid who worked hard all year, but somehow fluffed it on the day

2020 was going to be different

With exams cancelled because of corona virus there were always going to be different winners and losers, because supposedly kids were going to be assessed based on evidence they’d been able to provide through to March:


  • Kids that worked hard all the way through
  • Kids who dodged that bad exam day


  • Kids who slacked off all the way through, but planned on pulling it out of the bag in a final push for the exams

But not like that

It seems that the government decided it would be far too much trouble to look at evidence for individuals (even as a means of refining their model)[1], which leads to different winners and losers:


  • Kids who go to schools that have previously done well (especially private schools[2])


  • Outstanding kids going to historically poorly performing schools.

Even ignoring any work done over the past 2 years, the latter point could have been re-calibrated for by paying some attention to past GCSE results. The kid who got 9 A*s at a school that never previously had anybody getting any A*s is exactly the sort of outlier that data scientists live for[3].

The bad luck lottery

As noted above, in an ordinary year there will be a bunch of kids who are unlucky. Something happens on the vital day/week/month that makes them unable to meet their own expectations.

But to keep 2020 the same as 2017-2019[4] means handing out bad luck by algorithm, and that leads to an experiential gap that comes with a massive sense of discrimination.

If your dog died, or you got ill, or you fluffed it on the day then you know about that – it happened to you. There’s a correlation between lived experience and outcome.

But there were no exams, which means there can’t be any bad luck on exam day, which in turn means that a giant dollop of bad luck has been handed out to kids where there’s no correlation between lived experience and outcome. They just feel shafted, because they have been.

Matt Day perfectly sums up how ridiculous it would be for us to hand out bad luck in other aspects of life to keep the statistics in line:

Joining the fight

I just chipped in to the Good Law Project ‘Justice for A Level Students‘ campaign, and there’s also a campaign for Grading Algorithm: Judicial Review from Foxglove.


Any standardised testing process will have winners and losers, and we’re used to situations where bad luck leads to bad outcomes. I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with those same bad outcomes being handed out by algorithm, especially when it seems that the algorithm has been designed to preserve historic inequality.


[1] The BBC’s ‘Why did the A-level algorithm say no?‘ provides a good overview, and I’ve collected some more on the combo of ‘education’ and ‘algorithm’ PinBoard tags.
[2] I’m not writing this to ding private schools – they’re an ongoing part of structural inequality that I’ve willingly participated in myself, and for my own kids.
[3] Though it seems that Ofqual scared off the good statisticians and data scientists with NDAs that seem like the prequel to a cover up.
[4] The best description I’ve read of what happened is that grades were handed out to ‘ghosts of past students‘ rather than paying any attention to the 2020 individuals.

Which Java?


Or should that be:

which java


Practices for installing and maintaining Java have evolved over time, which can lead to tension between teams who are set in a particular way, and other teams who see that as backward.

The present state of the art is not to have Java on hosts at all, and to containerise apps that use Java, but for when it is needed on hosts a Software Development Kit (SDK) manager such as SDKMAN provides a sensible way to take care of things.


A colleague reached out to me asking whether Java should be installed from the OS package manager, or standalone? This raised a number of concerns:

  1. Whose JDK – Oracle, OpenJDK, IBM, (Zing, Zulu, Corretto[1])?
  2. Which major version?
  3. If minor versions and patches aren’t updated by the OS manager then who/what is doing that?
  4. Side by side installation for multiple app servers?
  5. Are any system tools dependent on Java?
  6. Does it matter is java is on the PATH?
  7. How is CLASSPATH set?
  8. How is the app/app server launched, and what does the script do to PATH and CLASSPATH?

I noted that:

Pretty much all of those questions stop mattering if using containers.


I’d observe that practice has developed over time. In the early days of Enterprise Java I was pretty close to the action, but since then I’ve been a more distant observer:

  • 2000 Install Sun Java from tarball into /opt/java
  • 2005 Install IBM Java or jRockit from rpm/deb into wherever they went
  • 2010 Install Oracle Java from rpm/deb (because the distros couldn’t package it)
  • 2015 Install OpenJDK from yum/apt
  • 2020 Put Java stuff into containers

As I was feeling out of touch a little I asked Twitter, though the results were far from conclusive:

Early voting had containerisation well ahead, but things later swung back to more established approaches.

What was new to me, which was the whole point of asking, was people pointing out that they used SDKMAN to solve this problem, and I think that’s probably the best answer for when Java is needed on hosts.

Safety and security

I recall the glorious days when the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) was considered a safe sandbox. Those days are long behind use, and the JVM looks more like a giant pile of Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) that need their own sandbox.

Then there’s the issue of dependency management (aka DLL Hell), where once clear and orderly installations can become a mess of intertwined dependencies that need the finest IT archaeologists to figure out what’s broken and how things ever worked.

For both of those reasons, I generally try to run Java apps in containers (along with anything using Node.js or Ruby).


Containerisation is the way to go for Java apps wherever possible, but for when Java does need to be installed on hosts SDKMAN seems to provide the best of both worlds between standalone Java installation and OS package managers.


[1] Thanks to Mike Moate for reminding me about Amazon’s Corretto, which is their distribution of OpenJDK that comes with “long-term support that will include performance enhancements and security fixes”.

I mentioned the 5 Rs in The Application Portfolio Manager a couple of years ago, and I’m returning to them as they’ve been coming up fairly frequently, and also they’ve become the source of some confusion.

5 Rs

The original[1] 5 from Gartner’s Five ways to migrate applications to the cloud (penned by my awesome friend and former colleague Richard Watson):
  1. Rehost
  2. Refactor
  3. Revise
  4. Rebuild
  5. Replace

6 Rs

Then AWS decided it was 6 Strategies for Migrating Applications to the Cloud:

  1. Rehosting
  2. Replatforming (~= revise but may also have pieces of rebuild)
  3. Repurchasing (~= replace)
  4. Refactoring/rearchitecting (kind of brings refactor and rebuild together)
  5. Retire
  6. Retain (do nothing option, should be periodically ‘revisit’)

7 Rs

And now they’re added #7:
      7. Relocate (for moving VMware VMs from on-prem to VMC)

Don’t mix cross-ply and radial on the same axle

Things start skidding out of control[2] when people start mixing the Gartner 5 Rs with AWS’s 6/7 Rs. There’s some parity, but also significant differences that make it possible to come up with a list of Rs that’s got lots of overlap:

  1. Rehost
  2. Refactor
  3. Revise
  4. Replatform
  5. Rearchitect

Or that’s missing some key treatments

  1. Replace
  2. Rebuild
  3. Repurchasing
  4. Retire
  5. Retain

The second set there is more contrived than the first. But this is a classic case of where a consistent taxonomy is helpful. For that reason I’ve been encouraging people to standardise on the AWS definitions.

Update 4 Aug 2020

Richard Watson commented on LinkedIn that the original framework he presented with Chris Haddad only had 4 Rs:

I guess Recode got split into Refactor and Revise.

Update 8 Sep 2020

Somebody sent me an HP deck from 2011 with their Rs (or Re-s):

  1. Re-learn
  2. Re-factor
  3. Re-host
  4. Re-architect
  5. Re-interface
  6. Replace
  7. Retire

So I guess that’s yet another source of confusion for my former HP(E) colleagues.

Re-learn was our process of helping clients understand what applications they actually had, the infra they ran on, the resources they consumed, the technologies, the quality, etc. We would use that result in Apps rationalization to figure out the best future for each app. We used tooling to help with that as well.

Re-interface was all about interconnectivity between systems. It was enabling applications to share data to open up and consolidate business processes.

The HP Rs trace their root back to Electronic Data Systems (EDS) when cloud was nascent, and weren’t at all focused on cloud migration, but rather the broader topic of application portfolio management (including migration off mainframes).

Update 30 Sep 2020

Watching VMworld 2020 I see that VMware has the following:

  1. Retain
  2. Rehost/Migrate
  3. Replatform
  4. Build and Refactor
  5. Retire

So that’s pretty much 5 of the 6 AWS ones, but notably not including Relocate, which is there specifically for VMware stuff :/

Retire also looks like it’s being used to do the same work as repurchase ‘retire traditional app and convert to new SaaS apps’.


[1] Maybe not so original. Although Gartner folk can trace their Rs back to about 2010 there are people from EDS who recall them from 2005/6 (when cloud was just becoming a thing).
[2] As if Charley Says wasn’t terrifying enough growing up in the 70s, another reason to avoid stranger’s cars was in case they might spin out of control because of the wrong tyre mix.

July 2020


Another month has rolled by. These were the highlights.

Hot tub

We’ve always enjoyed a hot tub in rented holiday places, which led to some discussion on whether to get one at home. I’ve not been keen due to cost, hassle and environment concerns; but on a sweltering hot day $wife came home and ordered an inflatable tub – an Mspa Alpine D-AL4, because that type was available without too much delay.

It’s been lovely to jump in the tub for 20-30m at the end of a day. I must also say that I’m impressed with the engineering and comfort of the design.

In terms of running costs I think it’s costing something like £50/month in power, chemicals, test strips etc, which isn’t so bad when I think that’s what I pay per week for hot tub heat when holidaying in Florida. I also bought the inflatable cover pictured above, which seems to help a lot with keeping heat in (before it was in place rainwater that collected on the cover would get warm, but that doesn’t happen any more).

Zoom Comedy

The highlight of the last few summers has been taking the family to Edinburgh for the Fringe, and we’re all huge standup comedy fans. To get our fix of funnies during the pandemic we’d been working our way through Prime and Netflix standup shows, but they’re not the same as going to live events in small venues.

And then we came across the Rachel and Marcus Tuesday Night Club, which led us to other shows at Always Be Comedy, which led us to The Weekly Standup; and it’s almost like Fringe from the comfort of home. We’ve been able to see some top artists trying material that would never go onto TV, and it’s been great. I also like Always Be Comedy’s innovation of The Front Row where artists can get live feedback from some of the audience.

We’re all streamers now

I talked a little about the shift in conferences last month, but it feels like the theme for July has been that we’re all streamers now, and those who are used to presenting to live audiences have a lot to learn from the YouTubers who’ve been doing this stuff for years.

My colleague Olivier Jacques first introduced me to Open Broadcast Software (OBS) Studio a while ago as a way to do presentations with a talking head overlay, but he’s recently been taking stuff to new levels with green screen effects and more. I’m hoping that he’ll do a write up of how he put together a ‘sizzle reel‘ for one of our partners recently, as it was an amazing piece of work. Meanwhile I’m collecting streaming related tips on a Pinboard tag.

Whisky tasting

For many years I’ve enjoyed joining friends at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), but that’s yet another thing that’s had to go virtual due to the pandemic. I finally joined the society myself following a tasting for a friend’s birthday, and bought the July and August selections for online tastings.

The July box was excellent – I even enjoyed the peaty one (which isn’t usually my preferred style), and it’s been fun to join friends on Zoom for the streamed tastings.


Knowing that I like low and slow cooking Bob Harris has been egging me on to buy a Big Green Egg for a while, but when I asked him which accessories he considered essential he suggested checking out other brands of Kamado BBQ. That led me to Kamado Joe, which I saw described as ‘if the Big Green Egg is the Blackberry of BBQs then the Kamado Joe is the iPhone’. This video comparison was the clincher for me, and I found a decent for the Classic II package at BBQs2U. I’ll be firing it up for the first time this evening.

Pi Stuff

After getting my Pi4 to boot from a USB3 attached SSD I was chuffed to find out that it’s using the UAS driver mentioned in this post as being substantially faster

iPad as PC monitor

I bought Duet a little while ago so that in a pinch I could use my iPad as a second screen when on the road. But that won’t be happening again for a while. With lots of presentations to do I’ve found myself short on screen space, so I’m now using my iPad with Duet as a 3rd screen – mostly for my Pi powered MotionEye CCTV, and chat windows.

Apple TV+

As Apple have been giving away year long subscriptions with new devices (like my iPhone SE) I took the plunge – mostly to check out Trying, which was really good. Since then I’ve also enjoyed Greyhound and The Morning Show. I’m not sure yet whether there’s enough value there for me to continue once I need to pay, but I’ve got most of a year to figure that out.

HDMI USB Android HD monitor

Last month I mentioned the HDMI USB adaptor I’d bought, so I was intrigued to see one being used to turn an Android phone into a monitor.


We need to make space between online activities if we want to remember and appreciate them.

Background – a virtual meetings just running together?

One of my Leading Edge Forum (LEF) colleagues sent me this Washington Post article ‘All these Zoom birthdays and weddings are fine, but will we actually savor the memories?‘, which basically seems to boil down to saying that online meetings run together in a way that it’s hard to tell one from another. I think one of the issues here might be a lack of liminal space:

The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing.

In essence, if you’re sat in front of the same laptop, in the same room, then don’t be surprised if all your online meetings run together into some amorphous glob.

Some contrasting personal experiences

Reflecting on some contrasting personal experience of the last few months (and I realise that I’m fortunate to live in a large(ish) house with a variety of rooms on offer):

  • Drinks and games with friends – we’ve done a few sessions where we’ve joined friends on Google Meet and played Jackbox party games. The setup I used for that had the friends or the game on my larger living room TV screen rather than just using my laptop standalone.
  • Similarly, live comedy shows (mentioned in my last post on The Front Row) have been watched on the TV, but also with surround sound switched on (this is an area where I think the platform providers can help my allowing show producers to stream different audio sources [performers/audience] into different channels [centre/left/right/rear]).
  • For drinks with a particular group of friends I’ve been using my iPad in the kids’ games room – so again a different device and place from ‘work’.
  • I’ve done a couple of whisky tastings recently where the tasting was on a Facebook or YouTube stream, with a parallel tasting party on Zoom. I used my ‘work’ setup for that (as the multiple screens are handy), but I think in that case the different tastes and smells of the whisky make for a distinct experience.

My sense here is that part of what makes events memorable are the liminal spaces around them. It’s not just that I go to a restaurant or comedy club, but also the journey there and back. Mostly being at home during lockdown means there are fewer opportunities to pass through liminal spaces, but there are still ways that we can create different spaces for and around virtual events to make them more memorable.

A connection to learning?

Related… (I think), following Jez Humble’s endorsement I’ve been reading ‘Learning How to Learn‘ with the family. The book talks about focus time and diffuse time. If we’re going to focus on things in virtual events, then we need diffuse time between them (by transiting through a liminal space).


If we want to get value out of online work events, and enjoyment from online social events, then I think we need to create liminal space between them. At a minimum, that probably means putting down the laptop and walking away a few times throughout the day.

The Front Row


This seems important enough not to just be a note in my July 2020 post when it comes.

I’ve seen a new interaction model emerge for virtual events, which I think maps into Fred Wilson’s 100/10/1[1] “rule of thumb” with social services:

  • 1% will create content
  • 10% will engage with it
  • 100% will consume it

What we seem to have been missing at virtual events is the means for the 10% to engage, which is where The Front Row comes in…

The Front Row

Last week (and again last night) I joined a live comedy stream featuring a couple of my favourite comedians, Rachel Parris and Marcus Brigstocke hosted by Always Be Comedy. It was a little weird at first because I joined a Zoom call as a viewer to find a dozen connections from strangers chatting to each other. Those people weren’t just there to watch the comedy, they were ‘The Front Row'[2] at the ‘venue’, they were there to be part of it. When Rachel and Marcus started their show they (and we) could still hear The Front Row (and they could also see comments on chat from the whole audience).

This is a good thing for the presenters, who would otherwise be getting no feedback from their audience, and it’s also (mostly) a good thing for the broader audience, as the laughs coming from elsewhere make the whole experience more like an in real life event.

So what?

You may be thinking, ‘That’s great Chris, but I’m not into live comedy, and I’m definitely not into live comedy on another web conference when I’ve spent all day staring at a screen’; but I bring this up because I think The Front Row is just an early example of how audiences are going to be empowered to engage with online events.

Some other things I’ve been seeing

At the recent Virtual DevOps Enterprise Summit the presenters were available in Slack for Q&A whilst the recordings of their talks/demos or whatever were playing, and this resulted in some really good interactive discussions about the topics at hand.

I watched the opening keynote for Google’s Cloud Next event on DatacenterDude’s Watch Party[3], which brought people together from Nick’s online communities on Discord and YouTube to chat about the event (a bit like a group of friends/colleagues sitting together at a conference and sharing some thoughts).

What next?

I don’t know. We’re all learning about this stuff at the moment. The Front Row is just one experiment in engagement that’s showing some promise. I hope that event producers try more stuff out, and I hope platforms introduce more features to help with engagement. We also have a ton to learn from YouTube and Twitch streamers (and similar) who’ve been engaging with (often huge) remote audiences for many years before the pandemic.

I’m adding useful things I find about streaming to my Pinboard tag on the topic.

Dick Morrell also pointed me at Jono Bacon’s People Powered as a book to help understand (online) communities, but I’ve not had the chance to start reading it yet.

Update 9 Sep 2020

BBC News is covering the use of the front row in online comedy gigs with its (video) piece Lockdown comedy: How coronavirus changed stand-up.

Also Jono Bacon is starting up a book club for People Powered.


[1] I find myself often referring to this as the ‘rule of 9s’ – 90% consumer, 9% curator, 0.9% creator (and I know that leaves a stray 0.1%).
[2] Live comedy regulars will know that you don’t sit in the front row of a venue unless you want to run the risk of becoming part of the show. It’s a bit like the splash zone for shows at dolphin parks – don’t sit there unless you want to get wet. There are some comedy fans who will always choose the front row, most not so much – it’s a good reason to show up to an act on time, because you don’t want to be forced into the splash zone if you don’t want to take part.
[3] I saw some analyst commentary that Next was poorly attended, which I think fails to take account of the facts that a) analysts were given early access to the streams, so they were seeing them at a time when only press and analysts had access, and b) anybody joining a watch party wouldn’t be counted for the origin stream (though this is something that YouTube/Google should be able to get straight in terms of fan out).