Hachyderm.io, from Side Project to 38,000+ Users and Counting
Then in late October, Elon Musk bought Twitter for an eye-watering $44 billion, and began cutting thousands of jobs at the social media giant and making changes that alienated longtime users.
And over the next few weeks, usage of Nóva’s hobby site, Hachyderm.io, exploded.
“The server started very small,” she said on this episode of The New Stack Makers podcast. “And I think like, one of my friends turned into two of my friends turned into 10 of my friends turned into 20 colleagues, and it just so happens, a lot of them were big names in the tech industry. And now all of a sudden, I have 30,000 people I have to babysit.”
Though the rate at which new users are joining Hachyderm has slowed down in recent days, Nóva said, it stood at more than 38,000 users as of Dec. 20.
Hachyderm.io is still run by a handful of volunteers, who also handle content moderation. Nóva is now seeking nonprofit status for it with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, with intentions of building a new organization around Hachyderm.
This episode of Makers, hosted by Heather Joslyn, TNS features editor, recounts Hachyderm’s origins and the challenges involved in scaling it as Twitter users from the tech community gravitated to it.
Nóva and Joslyn were joined by Gabe Monroy, chief product officer at DigitalOcean, which has helped Hachyderm cope with the technical demands of its growth spurt.
HugOps and Solving Storage Issues
Suddenly having a social media network to “babysit” brings numerous challenges, including the technical issues involved in a rapid scale-up. Monroy and Nóva worked on Kubernetes projects when both were employed at Microsoft, “so we’re all about that horizontal distribution life.” But the Mastodon application’s structure proved confounding.
“Here I am operating a Ruby on Rails monolith that’s designed to be vertically scaled on a single piece of hardware,” Nóva said. “And we’re trying to break that apart and run that horizontally across the rack behind me. So we got into a lot of trouble very early on by just taking the service itself and starting to decompose it into microservices.”
Storage also rapidly became an issue. “We had some non-enterprise but consumer-grade SSDs. And we were doing on the order of millions of reads and writes per day, just keeping the Postgres database online. And that was causing cascading failures and cascading outages across our distributed footprint, just because our Postgres service couldn’t keep up.”
Monroy, longtime friends with Nóva, was an early Hachyderm user and reached out when he noticed problems on the site, such as when he had difficulty posting videos and noticed other people complaining about similar problems.
“This is a ‘success failure’ in the making here, the scale of this is sort of overwhelming,” Monroy said. “So I just texted Nóva, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Anything I could do to help?’
“In the community, we like to talk about the concept of HugOps, right? When people are having issues on this stuff, you reach out, try and help. You give a hug. And so, that was all I did. Nóva is very crisp and clear: This is what I got going on. These are the issues. These are the areas where you could help.”
Sustaining ‘the NPR of Social Media’
One challenge in particular has nudged Nóva to seek nonprofit status: operating costs.
“Right now, I’m able to just kind of like eat the cost myself,” she said. “I operate a Twitch stream, and we’re taking the proceeds of that and putting it towards operating service.” But that, she acknowledges, won’t be sustainable as Hachyderm grows.
“The whole goal of it, as far as I’m concerned, is to keep it as sustainable as possible,” Nóva said. “So that we’re not having to offset the operating costs with ads or marketing or product marketing. We can just try to keep it as neutral and, frankly, boring as possible — the NPR of social media, if you could imagine such a thing.”
Check out the full episode for more details on how Hachyderm is scaling and plans for its future, and Nóva and Monroy’s thoughts about the status of Twitter.
Feedback? Find me at @hajoslyn on Hachyderm.io.