Workplace

A love letter to developers making weird things on the internet

To all the unnamed developers building bots, extensions and odd little tools: We adore you.

Letter with "my beloved developers" on front

All of us here at Protocol spend more time than is healthy on Twitter, but we are rewarded by your rare, unexpected and strikingly funny bots.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

To all the unnamed developers making the internet a better place,

Today I feel a little bit like Andrew Lincoln in "Love Actually," scrawling my words of adoration for you across giant sheets of cardstock and slipping them onto the internet between my usual articles about tech unions, Tesla and the Facebook Papers.

Dear developers, you remind us of the delight that can be found online if you know where to look. All of us here at Protocol spend more time than is healthy on Twitter, but we are rewarded by your rare, unexpected and strikingly funny bots. This week, for me, it’s the “red (taylor’s version) bot” spouting random lyrics unexpectedly onto my feed, jamming “this is the golden age of something good and right and real” onto my timeline between a columnist’s tweet about Virginia Governor-elect Youngkin’s tax cuts and a Danish child-bride impeachment case. For a lot of our staff, it’s the "Moby Dick" bot, telling us this morning that, “even then, Ahab, in his hidden self, raved on.” Also, shoutout to the Magic Realism Bot, No Context Succession and SparkNotes (which, while not a bot, is the only corporate account to achieve venerable bot-like status in our estimation).

And in praising the bots that do us good in the world, we would also be remiss not to share equal love for some of the people behind the shield protecting us against bots malignant and ill-intentioned: Bot Sentinel. Bot Sentinel is the definition of a miracle of an extension, tracking malicious actors across Twitter and identifying problematic accounts ranging from foreign tweet factory farms to toxic trolls. Shoutout to all who work on this project, battling an infinite wave of horrible internet behavior with a limited budget and no personal gain whatsoever (speaking of, Bot Sentinel is fundraising, if you’re looking for a place to donate some of those shiny, newly exercised stock options this holiday season).

During your day job, you might be that engineer at Google building the somewhat questionable large-language model that has drawn quite a bit of negative press, but you might also be the person using their 20% time to rebuild the beloved “Matrix” that powers detailed, useful flight-search software. And whoever it was at Google who decided typing “docs.new” into the browser would open a new, blank document with ease: We rely on your little shortcut every single day.

Browser extensions have a nasty history of mostly scamming you into accepting yet another person hoovering up your internet data and selling it off to some mystery planet in another galaxy. But there are so many that exist just to make your life literally a little bit easier, sometimes by helping us avoid the myriad ways very large tech companies try to extract profits from the internet. The Video Speed Controller just makes it easier to slow down what you’re watching. The PC Weenies Mechanical Keyboard Simulator speaks for itself. RECAP has made every journalist and aspiring lawyer come close to tears of joy at least once by saving us from paying PACER a bananas sum of money on thousands of pages of legal documents (speaking of another nonprofit looking for a bit of holiday financial help). In the theme of developers helping developers, the React DevTools open-source extension has been saving tons of angst by helping people debug in their browsers with ease.

And last, but certainly not least, we love the websites and apps that do exactly one thing extremely well, usually by circumnavigating onerous rules and policies designed without much thought about the end-user experience. Amplosion — an app that takes away the much-reviled Google AMP link so users can instead head directly to the website of their choice with a clean URL — briefly became the No. 1 utilities app on the App Store in October, despite it being a random weekend project for one developer. TweetDelete is also pretty self-explanatory; I’ve been using it to auto-delete my tweets since 2018.

Seriously, anonymous people behind the Twitter bots, the browser extensions, the keyboard shortcuts in Google Drive — we love you. We don’t know most of your names, but your little tools and open-source contributions make the often grim job of a tech reporter a bit more joyful. All of you who are thinking about the little things in life that would make the internet a slightly better place, often sacrificing your personal time and rarely seeking profit to make it happen: You are so appreciated, and I finally found the time to say it because you’ve automated so much of my work away. Thanks for making my editors feel like they can assign me even more.

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