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108. Building Community with the Wicked CoolKit

Hosted by Chris Castle, with guests Julián Duque and Lynn Fisher.

Back in the day, the web felt smaller and people used simpler ways to connect with others. Those with niche interests still found each other despite the absence of mega social platforms. Lynn Fisher, Chief Creative Officer at &yet, shares the story behind the Wicked CoolKit, a collection of retro web widgets designed to help today’s niche enthusiasts connect.


Show notes

Nowadays, the internet is so huge that it can be hard for people to find others who share their niche interests. But when they do find that rare kindred spirit, it can feel like a magical moment. Lynn Fisher and design agency &yet have been exploring ways to help people build community around their passions (which can sometimes be a little “weird”). The team launched a project called “Find Your Weirdos” that incorporates different tools, sites, and techniques for helping people connect with their fellow weirdos. Their project also helps companies connect with customers through niche interests.

Wicked CoolKit logo

Inspired by the Weirdos project, the &yet team envisioned ways to help Heroku developers connect — and the Wicked CoolKit was born. The kit harkens back to the earlier days of the internet, when simple, fun web widgets and tools helped people connect without all the noise of today’s mega social platforms. The initial version of the kit offers a new take on a few nostalgic web widgets, including:

  • Developer trading cards — Echoing the retro joy of collecting baseball cards or playing card-based games, this widget allows developers to create their own profile card. They can specify their personal bio, coding skills, niche interests, “feats of strength,” and more, and share it within an elegantly designed UI.

  • Themed stickers — A perennial favorite, stickers are a colorful way to identify interests, such as baking or woodworking. Users can download stickers to use as they wish, or add a sticker to their trading card that links to other people’s cards that have the same sticker.

  • Webring — Years ago, fans and friends would use a webring to share a collection of websites dedicated to a specific topic. The kit brings the old school webring into the modern context and allows people to easily share and access web resources.

  • Hit counter — Everyone wants to know how many visitors came to their site. The old-fashioned hit counter is a fun way to track and display page visits. The higher the number, the more likely people will want to engage with the site (and the developer behind it).

The Wicked CoolKit is fully open source and available to use.

Transcript

Chris: Hello, and welcome to Code[ish]. I'm Chris Castle, Developer Advocate at Salesforce Heroku. And we have a pretty interesting episode for you today. It is about something we're calling the Wicked Coolkit. But before we get into that, I will let Julián introduce himself.

Julián: Of course. Hello Chris. My name is Julián Duque. I'm a Lead Developer Advocate here at Salesforce Heroku. And I'm currently transmitting from the beautiful city of Medellín in Colombia.

Chris: We've got this remote podcast going. So I'm in New York city, Julián is in Medellín Colombia. And then we have Lynn here. Lynn you want to introduce yourself?

Lynn: Yeah. Hi, I'm Lynn Fisher. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, and I'm a designer and web developer. I work for a software consultancy called &yet, and my shtick, I guess, is making weird web projects targeted at really niche subjects.

Chris: And I will just make a plug for... Lynn, what's your personal website?

Lynn: Oh, it's Lynnandtonic.com

Chris: Lynnandtonic, like gin and tonic, but Lynn-

Lynn: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah, Lynn always does a fun personal website refresh every year. So check it out now.

Lynn: Just launched this week.

Chris: Cool. Well, let's jump into it. So Lynn, can you explain what is the Wicked Coolkit? And it's actually something that you can use, our listeners, you can check out and use yourself. So can you explain what is it and how would someone use it?

Lynn: So the Wicked Coolkit is a set of tools that have a little bit of a throwback vibe that you can as a developer, build yourself or implement some of the tools into your personal websites. So the three tools that are kicking off the Wicked Coolkit are a developer trading card, where you can create your very own trading card with your feats of strength and your kind of unique interests. And then a webring, where kind of the old school webring, where you and your friends, or whoever can all belong to a webring that clicks through to each of your different sites. And then also a hit counter, where you can add to any one of your sites and it'll show you how many visitors have come to your site or how many times you've manually refreshed your website. Back to the good old days where lots of sites had little hit counters.

Chris: Nice. Yeah, that's cool. I remember this concept of a webring came up, right. So you could join up with a bunch of people and... I actually don't remember them too well. Was it always about a specific topic or was it just randomness based on whoever somehow connected with others?

Lynn: Right. I think there was both like, "Hey, these are my friends or people that I know," but I think the ones that really took off were very specific like, "Here's 'My Little Pony' webring" and all these fan sites for that, or a particular band or a particular fandom and where you could click through and see all these different personal sites dedicated to a particular topic.

Julián: And also was discoverability. The URLs back in the days were huge. You have these long GeoCities with the region with a lot of numbers or angelfire, and they weren't possible to memorize. And it wasn't easy to use at DNS, or to have a short URL for your websites. I think it was also good for discover other websites around the same topic.

Chris: Okay. And so there's the Wicked Coolkit site, which we'll put in the show notes, which you'll be able to check out. Lynn, can you talk about the trading card a little bit? That's kind of... I don't know, it's not really the main or premiere component, but it's kind of the biggest and most detailed piece of it. So what were you thinking about kind of with the trading card and how does that harken back to the past and how can people use it?

Lynn: We had kind of come up with the toolkit idea retro, right? And Terry Carter, who's a designer developer in our team, threw out the idea of the designer/developer trading card. And this, I think riffed on a couple different things. One which are card trading games or trading of small objects, I think is something that it feels nostalgic to people, Magic the Gathering other card games. Even for me as a younger person, it was trading Lisa Frank stickers, or things like that, where there's this kind of idea of collection, trading and even baseball cards is a more traditional route.

So the trading card, basically what you can do is deploy your personal trading card to Heroku and fill in all your details. You can add a picture, you can add your contact info, you can add what you personally are just really good at, your feats of strength, and a little bio about yourself.

And I think what this does also is that it creates a little space on the web that's totally yours, so you can customize. And I think that feels really nostalgic too, where now you're kind of, "Oh, I'm on Twitter, I'm on Facebook." That's a kind of big conglomerate of lots of people. And I think a lot of people are kind of feeling a longing for these little kind of small spaces on the web to call your own. And so it really has that kind of vibe.

And so we also have a part of the trading card is that you can add some stickers to your trading card to showcase your skills, what Heroku languages you write in your different interests outside of coding. I think a big part of having a space on the internet is celebrating kind of your broad range of interests, not just your particular... Your day job or what you're doing with code.

So we have things, little stickers for if you're into baking or if you're into woodworking, or if you like to read books or write, or just a range of things that you can add your developer trading card to show like, "Hey, this is what I'm about."

Chris: That's cool.

Lynn: Yeah. And so as other people also deploy their trading cards, what we're wanting to do is where if you click on... Let's say you have a baking sticker on your trading card, then you could click on the baking one and it'll take you to someone else who also has the baking sticker on their trading cards. You can discover like-minded people, people that are into the same thing as you are. Kind of that discoverability of the webring that we talked about, where you can discover and read what everyone else is about and discover other Heroku devs too.

Julián: I love that idea of discover all the people that have the same interests as you. Lately, and especially during these year on what's going on, I've been getting back a lot to tabletop role playing games online with a lot of friends. I've been playing since I was seven, but now it has been like, "Well, I'm at home. I have time to play. So why not get together with friends." And starting to know more people in the community with the same interests.

And there is a lot of also developers and tech people that are doing the same. And I can't wait to start discovering the people that are sharing the same interests as me and to see why not running some sort of one shot campaigns, even talking with the people, other teams I'm discovering a lot of people with the same interests.

And it is good to be able to have a space, to do things besides just tech or just coding. So I think it's a very good idea to use this trading card concept, to share what you love, what you like, and discover other people with the same interests as you.

Chris: One thing I like about the stickers and them not necessarily there are the... Maybe the languages, programming languages that you know, but then there's mountains or baking or stitching or other things. And I feel for such a long time, and still to this day, software developers are kind pigeonholed into this very, to be frank, this white male nerdy definition. One, there's lots of other people out there that are getting into software development. But two, all of those people have different facets to their personality and their likes and the things they do.

Although I like sitting in front of a computer and writing code, I also like mountain biking and skiing. And these other things that I did — search and rescue, I was a ski patroller, back in, I don't know, a decade ago — which are things that are kind of not necessarily associated with software developers, but I like that. There's many different facets of people than just being coders.

Julián: For example, I have a friend from Argentina, she's a developer and she started knitting, and she was doing the JavaScript logo on some other tech stuff. And a lot of other people started like, "Wow, I want to be part of a knitting meetup," and they got together and started to share different patterns. And they created a very good community, not only knitting and then they started like, "Okay, I'm also a plant person and let's start sharing tips of taking care of plants." And it is nice to see that you can also create community around other different interests using the same technologies and the same tools we use for creating tech communities.

Chris: One other thing I like about the trading cards also is that, I'm not a great designer, a visual designer, or very good at CSS. And so when I want to kind of express something, I have trouble getting that image or vision in my head out onto paper or a website and the trading card looks cool. And all I have to do is provide information, fill out the form or something like that. I don't have to worry about making it look cool. So it's kind of a view of my personality of me as a person, but I don't have to struggle through CSS or other things that I'm not great at.

Lynn: I think that's a big barrier for people putting a personal site out there. It's like, what does it look like? And that's such a hurdle to get over. And so it's like, "Hey, we designed this. So it looks cool, fits the theme, and you don't have to worry about any of that."

Julián: Once people take a look at the website and the design concept behind, there is something that I like a lot, and especially as of today, it's very relevant. The look and feel is very retro futuristic. The choice of colors, so like a blue, purple, it feels retro, but also modern and futuristic. So it brings that, for me like that cyberpunk-ish nostalgia.

Chris: That seems to be getting popular again. So if we back up a little bit, there's this thing called the Wicked Coolkit, which we created, but it's part of kind of this umbrella project called the... Is it just called the "weirdos project," Lynn?

Lynn: "Find Your Weirdos."

Chris: "Find Your Weirdos." Okay.

Lynn: Yeah.

Chris: Can you first of all explain what is this Find Your Weirdos project? Why did you name it "weirdos"? Sometimes, that can have negative connotations, but what does that mean to you or to the folks that put this together?

Lynn: So the project, Find Your Weirdos, is an &yet project. So, for me personally, and just a lot of us on the team, I think we've had that experience on the web or in person, right? Where you discover something, someone else is really interested in this really niche topic that you are and it's just kind of a magical experience. And we have just always wanted to figure out if we can capture that. We're just always kind of chasing that feeling.

And we use the word "weirdos" because I think it captures the niche-ness of it, right? Where there's some different skills of it, right? If I talk to someone: "Oh, you like star Wars? Cool, I like star Wars. We can connect on that." But star Wars is also a huge property, right? Disney owns it and all that.

And so sometimes, it's that weird niche thing where it's like, "That's a little weird, I don't know if people would be into it if I shared it." And when you connect with someone like that, it's like, "Oh my gosh, I found my fellow weirdo. They're a weirdo like me." Right? And so it's kind of also reclaiming that, "Ooh, that's kind of a strange thing you're into" and being proud of it. I'm proud of this thing that I'm super into, and I want to find my other weirdos that are into that also.

So personally, that's kind of the vibe we're thinking about and what Find Your Weirdos is translating that experience, that journey to helping companies do that where: "Hey, there's these people out there who are into the same thing that you are as a company, they're all about the details, the fine print of what you as a company are missioned toward." And they're going to be excited about you and you can serve them in a way that is really meaningful.

And so Find Your Weirdos is about that and their weirdos projects. So this is the weirdos project, the Coolkit, but also at find.yourweirdos.com we've been writing a series of essays about how other companies have done this. Some really specific examples of how companies have been able to grow and serve their customers in a way that's really unique and meets them where they are. And then also just some kind of thoughts and perspective about why we're doing this.

Chris: You didn't really say this, but I think it's in there. You're encouraging empathy from a company for its customers or users in some way by saying maybe it is weird that you love alligators or something like that. Or I'm just looking through the find.yourweirdos.com site now — coffee or My Little Pony like you said earlier — there's all these different things. But it kind of forces you to be like, "Oh, I'm going to be curious about it as a company or as an employee with customers and kind of learn about the things my people are into."

And it also seems like this project is kind of about connection, encouraging connection between people. Did &yet have an annual conference? Is that what &yet used to do?

Lynn: Almost. Close to it. So if you had followed &yet over the last decade or so, I feel like most people know about &yet through conferences. So Realtimeconf was the big one. And then in 2015 we did &yetconf, which was pretty different. But the conferences were always really weird, a lot of really kind of special pieces added to it. So, we wrote original music for it, produced an album by Ben Mitchell. We did an activity called "textcapades," which was SMS-based choose your own adventure game. But you could play along with the conference, or during the course of the conference. There was a play that went through the course of the conference at different locations. And so some people are like, "This is the weirdest conference I've ever been to." And some people are like, "Oh my gosh, this is totally my vibe." Right? This is so special.

And over time,...we're creative folks, so we pivot a lot, right? We're like, "Hey, let's focus on this." But the thing that was most meaningful for us — connecting with people in our community, with people in our industry, and with future clients (us working with Heroku came from conference relationships that we've built). And so we were like, "Ah." That to us felt the most genuine and the most real and the most this "finding your weirdos" vibe.

And so we're like, "How can we translate this to the web, where you're not meeting in person?" That's just limited in scope, right? Just only so much you can do there. But then: "How can we also do this for other teams?" And we also do this for ourselves a little bit.

We call them "glorpies," but they're basically passion projects. So a glorpy — there's a close-up magic trick called the "Haunted Handkerchief" where it's like... I'm sure you've seen it at some point where the handkerchief feels alive. The ghost in that is called "Glorpy." So that's where that name comes from. That's not super interesting, but anyway, so we call them glorpies and they are little passion projects that we try to do so that we can get our creative bug out and create things for the people that we think would really respond to it.

So we've done a couple, one is called "Face Camp." It's at face.camp and it's a way to... You can capture just a quick GIF of yourself and drop it into a Slack. And as a remote team for us, that was super valuable for being able to connect to each other across distances, basically connect with each other online.

And then we also have an app called "Wegotchu," which is at wegotchu.cards. And that's a way to send digital greeting cards to other people. One thing we missed — this had good timing this year because now everyone is remote — but we as a remote team before, we really missed the concept of being able to celebrate each other by signing a card and handing that to someone. And so wegotchu.cards is kind of a V1 of that where you can pass a card around digitally. Everyone can sign it and then send it off.

Chris: So what about if you go to findyourweirdos.com, there's a lot of different things you folks have done, &yet has done. How did you and the team settle on the Wicked Coolkit as the next project and for this project that you've done with us, with Salesforce and Heroku?

Lynn: So we wanted to figure out a way to connect with Heroku's weirdos, who are those? And another thing is that there are lots of different weirdos, right? So I have Pope trivia weirdos or Schitt's Creek weirdos, or whatever, right? I mean, I think the nice thing with weirdos too is it allows you to focus. You don't have to try to meet everyone. You're really trying to connect with a group.

And so for the Coolkit, we talked about a couple of ideas, we talked about: "Ooh, maybe we could create a directory of projects that are built on Heroku and Salesforce that people could submit, we could highlight specific developers, or people could discover the different things that people are working on." I think there's a good vibe there where: "Ooh, hey, I made this site about this other random thing, and I don't know where to share that, but this place is made for that."

We talked about hackathons and focusing on cause-oriented projects, people that are really passionate about a specific cause and use technology like Heroku and Salesforce to achieve those goals that they have. And then we talked about the toolkit, which, where that kind of came in was that, I said earlier, where there's all these developers who are kind of tinkerers. They like to play with open source stuff. Like, "Hey, I'll add this to my site, I'll add this or I'll make a developer trading card."

So talking to those folks, but also developers who were kind of longing for that personal space on the web, the smaller connections, discovering, like Julián said, discovering other tabletop gamers. Right? Having a mechanism to do that doesn't feel so overwhelming. Like Twitter, it's hard to discover people on Twitter, interest based. Right? And so you're kind of thinking about that kind of the days of the web where things felt a little bit smaller, but we still wanted it to be fun. Something that people could riff on, something that they could add into their site and show off something that they could share and discover new people around.

Chris: And the word "wicked," I had heard of it, heard of its use in this way, because maybe I grew up in the Northeast US and I think that's where it originates. But what does wicked mean in this context.

Julián: Specifically for me, I am a non native English speaker. For me "wicked" — it's the wicked witch or something bad.

Lynn: So "wicked" was, and is I guess (it's not as used as much now), a slang word for "cool." So when we were naming this, I was thinking like, "Okay, what are some retro-y words that would convey the vibe, but also feel unique." And we talked about "radical" and some other kind of slang words for cool. And "radical" itself isn't used as much, but "rad" I feel like it's still pretty popular word, and "wicked" felt vintage enough, but that people still might know the meaning of... Or maybe we can revive "wicked." I don't know. People can start using it again.

Chris: So you kind of alluded to helping companies, right? &yet is a company, you got to make money. And so the Find Your Weirdos idea/concept/campaign, whatever you want to call it, is a kind of helping different companies find and understand their weirdos, understand their customers, focus on them in a nontraditional way maybe. And so how did you think about that with Salesforce and Heroku and helping us find our customers?

Lynn: I think where I was coming from was that there are a lot of devs using Heroku that want to build stuff. That's neat, that's personal, right? They want to connect with other developers and we wanted to create something for them that they can interact with and not just use or consume, not something that you just read or something that... It's something for them like, "Oh, I can take this and use it, like the hit counter, or I can create a developer trading card and deploy it to Heroku and be active in this process."

I think participation is a big part of it. Sarah Avenir, our CEO, her big thing is making what you make in public, right? Like, "Hey," bringing people along with you, collaborating." And that's really the way that you make a lot of connections, especially as a company.

And that can be hard to do as companies grow. And so Salesforce is quite a big company, and I think what this does, which is neat actually, is that it introduces developers who maybe haven't used Salesforce introduces them to it in a way that feels not overwhelming. Right? There's cool features on Salesforce that you can use in your apps now. And here's a small and fun way to do that. And I think that's a really cool thing too, where Heroku being so closely tied with Salesforce, it's like, "Hey, I can deploy my app on Heroku in the way that I've done it before, or maybe not, maybe I can host my data in Salesforce or I can use Salesforce in this way with my apps that I'm already building." So it's a pretty cool way to kind of bridge that.

Julián: One thing I love about the project and how we are using it, Heroku and Salesforce, and it happened to me before joining Salesforce, is you see it as this super enterprise software for super serious, square applications. And always the use cases you'll find are enterprise-y, business-y, and for people maybe like me or the weirdos out there, sometimes those use cases might not be as interested and are doing some other fun projects on the web.

But being able to use the power of Salesforce or leveraging Salesforce, how can we use their database capabilities to manage all the data, to be able to feed these type of applications, right? Something as cool as the Wicked Coolkit, it shows the power of both platforms, both the Salesforce and Heroku platform, and how can they work together and create really cool use cases.

Lynn: I think for me personally, approaching something like this, I could add a hit counter to my site or a webring and it'll show me how I can use Salesforce as a database for a site. That to me, it feels super approachable and not scary, where I have a lot of sites that have a lot of data and it's all just hard to manage. And a lot of stuff is in spreadsheets and that type of thing, even for me, as I tip much more on the designer side, then database stuff, I don't touch that ever. But if I had something like this that could show me like, "Oh, hey, this stuff isn't scary. You can use a database on a small site and you don't need to be a big business." I think that's really cool. And I don't know, I'm into it.

Chris: It's like, "Hey, let's learn about these technologies in a fun and maybe more personally applicable way to me, it helps kind of keep my interest or keep my excitement about something to learn about the technologies and kind of underlying capabilities of Salesforce and Heroku." I think that's about it for the time we have. Julián, did you have any other questions or things for Lynn?

Julián: Pretty much. I can't wait to start sharing my trading card with all of you on and start discovering new people, new friends, to see what we can do. And also to remind the folks out there: this is an open source project, so both the JavaScript and the Heroku code, and the Salesforce projects, are going to be available for you to try it out. So the idea is also not only to have a cool project to use and to share with people, but also to learn how to develop for the both platforms.

Chris: What about you Lynn? Any final thoughts about this project or the Weirdos umbrella project in general?

Lynn: Just have fun with it. I think that's the main thing, right? And as you play with it, if you have sticker ideas, if you have... What do you want to see? Let us know.

Chris: Cool. Well, thanks for joining us Lynn, and for your passion and excitement and sharing the inner workings of how this Wicked Coolkit came about.

Lynn: Thanks for having me.

Chris: We'll have a link to the project and to help you get started in the show notes. And that is all. Thanks very much for joining Code[ish] and have a great day everyone.

About code[ish]

A podcast brought to you by the developer advocate team at Heroku, exploring code, technology, tools, tips, and the life of the developer.

Hosted by

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Chris Castle

Director, Developer Advocacy, Heroku

Chris thrives on simplicity and helping others. He writes code, prototypes hardware, and smiles at strangers, helping developers build more and better

With guests

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Julián Duque

Developer Advocate, Heroku

Developer Advocate, Community Leader, and Educator with experience in Node.js and JavaScript

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Lynn Fisher

Chief Creative Officer, &yet

Lynn Fisher is an artist, designer, and CSS developer who loves making weird projects for the web.

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