Today I’m starting a contract gig writing some technical documentation for omg.lol’s weblog service. It seemed like a fun idea when I came up with it, so I sent the site’s founder, Adam, a quick note with a simple proposal. He liked the idea, too, so here we are.
At the moment I’m busy looking for work doing what I’m best suited to do, which is operations or chief of staff work somewhere in the software industry. Looking for work always triggers some reflection. This most recent period of time off and now spinning the job search back up has been no different.
I’m coming off ten years at a company that defined an entire technology paradigm. It was a period of amazing growth and opportunity: I walked in the door as a technical writer, and left as its senior director of technology operations. The experience broadened my horizons and changed how I see myself. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
One thing I lost track of a little, though, was my sense of technology as something that is fun, interesting, and empowering for every day people. Yes, at Puppet we were making software for everyday people who just so needed to manage infrastructure at scale.
As a director of IT and engineering services, though, I was thinking about the needs of a 500-person business full of everyday people trying to get their work done. My thoughts about technology took a turn for the very practical, very enterprise-y. I still took my responsibility to make technology accessible and useful seriously, but fun didn’t really enter into it the way it once had.
I was feeling that turn when I came across omg.lol a while back: I’d made a very practical personal site that I didn’t much like dealing with and hadn’t updated much. I had a personal blog that I liked a little better but didn’t like to play with because the feedback loops with that service were slow. Then all hell broke loose on Twitter, a lot of people I knew started making the move to Mastodon, and an online friend mentioned he had a new Mastodon account via omg.lol, which stood up its own instance for its users.
If you haven’t seen it yet, omg.lol is an interesting little collection of services you’ve seen other places:
There’s that Mastodon instance, a pastebin service, a URL shortener, a personal landing/links page, a DNS tool, and a weblog service that Adam put together over the course of December in the form of a series of blog posts dressed up as an Advent calendar. All the services come with a usable web UI, but Adam’s also built an accessible API for all of it that you can access from automation as simple as an Apple Shortcut or a Drafts action.
The whole thing reminds me in spirit of ’90s-era dialup shell accounts you could get on the early Internet if you were interested in things like Usenet, Gopher, MUDs, or Telnet BBSs you read about in a book like The Whole Internet.
You could use services like these in other places, but there is a certain fun positivity in the way Adam goes about running his service. There’s an IRC server (with a Discord bridge) if you’re interested in hanging out with him and other tinkerers, and there’s a spirit of spontaneous, exuberant creativity to the way Adam works. A number of people using the social.lol Mastodon instance have commented it’s one of the more positive Local feeds going.
I know once I had my account set up and was following along with the initial weblog.lol documentation dripping out over the month of December, I started feeling like playing more than I have in a while. I hacked together an Apple Shortcut to use the URL shortener, then made a little Sinatra-based development tool to make it easier to do page design for the blogging service.
When January rolled around and I started digging in harder on my job search, it was fun to turn back to playing around with omg.lol stuff once I was done submitting applications or checking the network for leads.
So when I saw Adam mentioning that he felt behind on his documentation, I thought “I could help with that, and probably learn more about something I’m having a lot of fun playing with.” I wrote him, offered to pick up a contract to document the weblog service, and we had a great conversation about what that could look like.
This morning I watched his getting-started video and started building an outline. It felt good to think about a kind of writing I haven’t done in a while, and the ways technical writing can interact with and inform design.
At this point we’ve got plans for a set of documentation that’s reasonably scoped and meaningful, starting with a quick start guide to go with his video then moving on to an “operator’s manual” for templating and configuration, then “API docs” for people who just want a reference and all the legal values.
So this project is sitting alongside teaching myself Swift and assorted photography-related things while the job search goes on. It felt good to grind through the job hunt stuff today knowing I had this to look forward to, and I’m really looking forward to sharing good docs with the rest of the omg.lol community in the coming weeks.