James Adam by James Adam

Week 154

If you were impressed that Week 153 came all the way from Scotland, then you better make sure you are seated, because week 154 comes to you from around 11 kilometres in the air above Kentucky. Whoever Harmonia assigns next week is probably going to have to get friendly with Richard Branson or Paul Allen to top that.

Anyway, it’s been a quiet week for Go Free Range. I’ve been in Scotland (although obviously I’m not there now); Jason’s been in Norfolk; James M has been on the Isle of Wight, and you’ll have to ask Tom and Chris yourself where they hole up for the festive season. Hopefully somewhere warm with access to mulled wine.

I spoke about the coming year in last week’s post, so this week let’s take a look back at 2011.

Who

We started this year as six: myself, James M, Jason, Tom, Kalv and the still-wet-behind-the-ears-but-getting-hairier-by-the-day Chris Roos. In 2010 we’d fluctuated from seven to five to six, but at the start of 2011 we’d hit our stride.

However, in the Autumn, we said goodbye to Kalv, who is now “living the dream” in Vancouver. Presumably the “dream” is riding elk bareback through snowy mountain forests, quaffing maple syrup, which does sound pretty great.

It’s a shame that Kalv didn’t get to work with us on the Single Domain project as he was always very interested in effecting change in government through technology, but we are doing our bit to make him proud from this side of the Atlantic.

It’s never been the plan for GFR to expand, principally because that would force more organisational structure and hierarchy, which is precisely the thing we want to avoid.

That said, we’ve had a few internal conversations about other people we might like to work with. The only concrete conclusion we have at the moment is that there are a bunch of people that we’d very much like to work with this year, and if that leads to anything more significant, well then great.

What

We’ve worked on a range of projects in 2011. The first half of the year was mostly about #blue, integrating more deeply with the SMS infrastructure to give more users access to the service.

We also worked on a few prototype projects for O2, which contained valuable lessons both about how larger companies approach building software, and about how we define our relationship with a client.

We worked with Voicenet to help them start exploring how API might be used to create better, more flexible and more resilient services for their customers.

The year ended with us working with GDS to help with the Single Domain project, and we are very excited to launch the beta early this year, and also to fold development of our project into the full time team.

Its not all been client work though. We built Timmy Printface to demonstrate the liberation of SMSes from phone handsets via the #blue API. We built Linda to explore a simple telephony service that might help when your mobile phone runs out of power.

We prototyped an internal group messaging service – codename PissWhistle – which may or may not resurface in 2012. Tom explored geohashes and spoke about them at geomob. We started building a chaotic administrative exoskeleton - Harmonia - to make running the company smoother.

And, of course, we started writing these week notes.

Where

“To office, or not to office” – this has been an interesting point of internal debate over the past three years. I had originally considered offices an unnecessary overhead which would ultimately push us to do work that we wouldn’t otherwise pursue, just so we could service that overhead.

However, given the, uh, alternative way that we run our company, it’s actually proved incredibly useful to have a shared space that is ours. It provides a “spatio-temporal anchor” that we can use to explore and refine the simple rules that GFR operates with.

We started this year by moving into our first GFR space, nestled in loft space above Protein on Hewett Street.

After around six months, Protein had multiplied so much that they needed their loft back, and so we became temporarily homeless. At that time we were prototyping an API for O2, so we occasionally took advantage of their sponsorship of TechHub to give us a desk to work with our client.

We used a short break in September to find ourselves a new office space. To be honest it took us quite some time to really figure out what we were looking for; our initial net was cast as wide as Edgware Road and Aldgate, and on more than one occasion we took walking tours of London with Mark from Stirling Ackroyd to see what was available in each area.

Eventually we found our new home on Worship Street, just in time to start working on the Single Domain project with GDS in their offices. I really love our office - please do come say hi any time.

How and… Why?

OK, this conceit has started to wear thin, so I’ll say just this: Go Free Range was conceived as a sort-of “field of dreams” idea – if you get a bunch of smart developers working together, there’s nothing that they can’t achieve if they set their minds to it.

I’m looking forward to much more of that in 2012.

Have a great New Year, blog friends.

— James A

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