Replacing Twitter with a .plan.

Twitter is famously unstable, routinely going down for hours at a time. Jason Kottke has, jokingly, established a decentralized, ASCII-based Twitter. I got a kick out of this because, seriously, this is basically what we all used to do in the days before the WWW. We’d maintain .plan and .project files in our home directory, which anybody could view with the finger command. finger would give basic user information (name, e-mail, phone number, and last login date) and then display the contents of those files, and you could put anything you wanted within those files. I, like many people, kept my .plan and .project files up to date, and anybody on the internet could see it by issuing the command finger There was a soda machine and a coffee pot that were famously accessible via finger, each of which would report their current status. John Carmack refused to have a blog until 2005, using only a .plan to keep people updated on Quake, Wolfenstein 3D, Commander Keen, etc. It was a great system, and it made me a little sad when fingerd was gradually phased out.

So we’ve come full circle: Jason Kottke has reinvented finger. I think it’s great.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

5 replies on “Replacing Twitter with a .plan.”

  1. Ha. Now I’m going to have to find a copy of mine.

    (And such an intelligible email address! I was stuck with Accounts only given to ACM members. I’m thinking I was probably the only Phil major at GSU who was also an ACM member . . .)

  2. Truly anal-retentive geeks even kept their .plan files under revision control using RCS.


  3. Wow, Jason has some, uh, ASCII art on his ASCII-based Twitter; and that exact same art was sent to my temporary classroom email address by an anonymous sender when I was in the Air Force. I rather clueless class-administrator thought I had somehow asked for said email so he turned it over to his clueless supervisor, who did the same, who did the same.

    I was called into a clueless-colonel’s office and offered an article 15 for “visiting bulletin boards for pornography” because the classroom email address I had for a week received this particular ASCII art. I rejected the offer and challenged the colonel to both get a clue and take responsibility for everything that arrived in his email inbox. The next month was particularly ugly at work, but eventually people came to their senses and began to understand the difference between the internet and bulletin board systems; and between completely open/accessible classroom email addresses and solicited email.

    AIM/MSN Messenger/Yahoo Pager are client/server expressions of IRC, which is an internet expression of UNIX talk program, which is a UNIX expression of earlier TOPS-10/TOPS-20/VMS friends commands.

    Some of those applications run in a lot less memory and are much, much more stable than their modern counterparts.

  4. Heh, I remember writing a .bash script that messed around with finger, .project and write on darwin.clas

    Of course, I was a Government major at the time, so I have since forgotten all my AIX.

    Reminds me of a few years ago when AIM became all the rage (okay, more than a few). I couldn’t understand why people were so excited about graphical ytalk.

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