Next up in my "series of RailsConf speaker interviews":http://chadfowler.com/railsconf-speaker-interviews is "Michael Bleigh":http://mbleigh.com/, who is Creative Director and Open-Source Activist at "Intridea":http://intridea.com in Washington D.C. Michael will be presenting "Twitter on Rails":http://en.oreilly.com/rails2009/public/schedule/detail/8517 at RailsConf this year, highlighting a small but growing trend of applications using Twitter as a communication platform. h2. You work on "Present.ly":https://www.presentlyapp.com and you're giving a talk on Twitter apps at RailsConf. Micro-update services is obviously a topic that has you excited. Why is that? I wasn't a super-early adopter of Twitter; I honestly think it's something that takes some time to "get." Then one day I woke up and realized that without even trying I was getting all kinds of news and information that I might not even have heard otherwise. The beauty of Twitter (and Present.ly for teams and organizations) is that it's a fast, passive medium: you don't have to make an effort to keep up to date, it just sort of happens. It works with two-way communication, too; on our team if I have a quick syntax or sanity check question about my code, I post it up on Present.ly and get five responses within three minutes. Micro-updates excite me because I feel like I'm getting smarter just by glancing at growl notifications for a few seconds every couple of minutes while I'm working. It's effortless. h2. What are the coolest Twitter applications you've seen? It's hard to pick out just a few; from a client perspective I've been using "EventBox":http://thecosmicmachine.com/ lately. It's integrated Twitter search feeds are really useful for keeping an eye on all of Intridea's brands (as well as my plugins and open-source projects). While I don't think anyone has nailed it perfectly yet, aggregators like "TweetMeme":http://tweetmeme.com/ are interesting in their attempts to bubble up content from the noise. Honestly, I don't think there are just a couple cool apps; I think that Twitter's true strength is this really energetic ecosystem around creating cool stuff with the API. That's what my talk is all about: lowering the barriers to people making cool stuff with Twitter. With the hundreds of apps currently available I still think we've only scratched the surface of the utility that Twitter-based applications can provide. h2. What does it mean to be "Open Source Activist" for a company? Should other companies fill this role? As the "Open Source Activist" I'm basically just trying to push people to package up what they're doing and share it with the community, whether it's through a Ruby gem, a plugin, or just a blog post. My colleagues are making cool stuff all of the time, and sharing that cool stuff with the community is absolutely beneficial for the company, the individual, and everyone who finds it useful. We've had clients come to us and when they're vetting our work it'll be "Oh yeah, I've used that plugin! You guys wrote that?" I think that every company needs someone who is pushing for that community involvement. Pushing for us to blog more often and release more open source doesn't just yield intangible reputation benefits: I've learned really cool techniques from other people at Intridea that they used for a project on which I'm not currently working. I'm always excited to foster that kind of sharing environment because the rewards are just great. I could go on for hours and I strongly encourage that every company working with Ruby or Rails try to release at least a few open-source libraries and write some blog posts to share your knowledge and expertise with the world at large. We really believe in putting our money where our mouth is on the open-source front. When we wrote mobile applications for Present.ly on five different platforms it was a no-brainer to me to "release them all as open-source":http://github.com/presently. Open source, open APIs and open communication foster innovation in amazing ways, and anything I can do to make that happen more often I will. h2. Why is Twitter Search special and/or interesting? Twitter Search is special because it's intrinsically a different beast than Google and other search engines. It's not indexing information, it's indexing **conversation**, and it does it in real time. If I'm trying to find information about something that happened in the last 24 hours (like "who was that old woman on Lost?":http://intridea.com/2009/1/22/twitter-search-plus-find-replies-inline-with-twitter-search), I don't use Google anymore; I turn to Twitter because it will have up-to-the-second information that just isn't available anywhere else. Obviously it doesn't replace the usefulness of other search engines, but it opens up whole new channels of information discovery. Honestly search and Twitter are such a natural and amazing fit that it's surprising that it took a third party (Summize) to come along and realize that potential. I really look forward to where they (and third parties) are going to take the technology in the next year or two. h2. As I understand it, Intridea started as a consulting group but has quickly developed a set of products that have gotten some positive press. How do you balance consulting and product development? Do they support and feed off of each other? The balance actually works really well. We have a few people full time on products and then we rotate in services people either part-time or full-time depending on our client engagements at the time. I think it's been great for both sides of the company to have both services and products: we can try really bleeding edge and experimental things on the products and then bring that knowledge to the client work we do. Likewise, everyone at Intridea on the services side has an almost inhuman work ethic and an ability to juggle several projects at once so when they come on to the products they can pick it up fast and get things done. Consulting has also allowed us to try a number of products without ever having to accept outside funding. A number of our products also grew out of needs that clients would have again and again. For instance "Scalr":http://scalr.net is a great piece of software (don't ask me about how it works, it's over my head!) that gives us the ability to provide amazing scalable cloud hosting to our clients. "MediaPlug":http://www.gomediaplug.com/ similarly provides an easy infrastructure that saves our clients time and money. We scratch our own itches with our products and that usually means that there are benefits for the consulting side of our business with every product we make. I'm honored and privileged to work with so many brilliant people and be allowed to pursue so many amazing ideas.