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Messaging & Social Architecture by Pieter Hintjens

by Agnès, on April 19th 2012

Pieter Hintjens has many strings to his bow. He's active in open standards development (author of Advanced Message Queuing Protocol : AMQP), co-founder of ZeroMQ, a topic of one of his MiXiT talks. And he will speak about Social Architecture too!

MiXiT Team : Who are you?
[Pieter Hintjens](/user/hintjens) : My name is Pieter Hintjens. I was born in Congo, grew up in East Africa and Scotland, studied in England, now live in Belgium but work in Dallas, and Seoul. My 30-year profession is making software, and helping others to make software. For fun I write (a lot!), drum, shoot pistols (certified pistol instructor), travel (40 flights in the last 7 months), cook, learn new things. I'm married with three children; speak English, French, Dutch, and bits of maybe ten more languages. I was president of the FFII for two years, CEO of several startups (just starting a new venture in San Francisco at the moment), and have been making free software since 1991.

MiXiT Team : Could you describe your typical day? Do you work all the day?
[Pieter Hintjens](/user/hintjens) : The kind of work I do varies a lot depending on the opportunities and situation. But yes, I've always worked long days, weekends, holidays. If you want to be good at something, hard work is the only way. If I'm not working for clients, I'm writing or reading, or programming. Since I stopped being an employee 20 years ago, I've been free to organize my time as I like. Having kids gives me more excuses to leave the keyboard for a while.

MiXiT Team : How did you come to the messaging world?
[Pieter Hintjens](/user/hintjens) : My speciality in software is making tools for other developers, and messaging was always a big part of this. Every serious application needs messaging at some point. iMatix made several messaging products in the late 90's, but it was when we worked with JPMorganChase to make AMQP that we really dived in deep.

MiXiT Team : What is your role on [ZeroMQ](/session/15/zeromq-is-magic-from-the-future), the project you are going to introduce at MiXiT?
[Pieter Hintjens](/user/hintjens) : Historically, Martin Sustrik and myself were co-architects and co-founders of the project. I mortgaged my house to fund the original work, which lasted two years, and designed the community (using my principles of social architecture). Today, I'm the benevolent tyrant of the community, author of the 0MQ Guide (coming soon as a O'Reilly book), and maintainer of the stable releases. I work on several projects around ZeroMQ, like CZMQ, the man pages, etc.

MiXiT Team : What are your feelings about Crossroad (a fork of ZeroMQ) ?
[Pieter Hintjens](/user/hintjens) : It was necessary, to end arguments over who owned ZeroMQ. I'm very happy to see the fork, first because it creates more space for learning, second because it allowed the ZeroMQ community to work as they wanted without fighting a few individuals who essentially felt they owned the core.

I've explained my views in detail.

Interestingly, one of the outcomes of this fork was that we documented our process properly, and published it as a reusable contract for other projects: The Collective Code Construction Contract (C4). I think this is a really interesting recipe. We're using a version of it successfully in closed source projects.

MiXiT Team : What are your motivations for preparing your talk Social architecture?
Pieter Hintjens : I think being able to organize, on a large scale, is key to power. And we (the young generation that is fighting globally for a better world) needs power. This was clear from my FFII work. We can make the world a better place, but we need good tools for organization. The Social Architecture patterns are my best attempt to document what I've seen working, from long experience. By explaining these, I hope to get others to criticize and improve them. One person's view is always limited.

MiXiT Team : You are the past president of the FFII : could you describe this association and its activism against software patents?
In 2005 the FFII managed to execute the largest lobbying event ever in the European Parliament, with barely any money, no large backers, just the anger of honest people looking at corrupt legislation and thinking, "this is unacceptable". I'd come and given a few speeches against software patents, based on experience we'd had with them in my firm. "Software patents are evil", was my summary. They loved that and a little later elected me as president.

Mostly the FFII was burned out by then. We didn't have modern tools for communicating: we still printed paper and used email lists for everything. Hundreds of lists. It was complex and painful. There was intense emotion and anger in the association, which turned on itself, and on me as focal point. I didn't mind too much, put together a great team in Brussels and we did many good projects.

I think the legacy of the FFII -- which is less noisy but still active -- was to train hundreds of people in the language of the patent system. The FFII churned out experts who could demolish the pro-patent arguments effortlessly, who could write laws, and lobby better than any professional. And it showed how ordinary people could beat the system, taking the fight right to the heart of European democracy.

The FFII was the direct parent of the Pirate Party, starting in Sweden, which could say things that the FFII could not. FFII policy was to try to work with the patent system, to abolish software patents. But many of us felt the whole patent system was harmful (and time has proven that accurate I think). I've a long analysis. If I had a lot of money I'd put it into fighting for patent and copyright reform.

For me personally, the FFII was a great lesson in how not to organize people, and the principles of Social Architecture came directly from two years of reconstructing that organization to be less painful, more flexible, less argumentative. My friend Benjamin Henrion - who is still president of the FFII - helped enormously with that work, as did Andre Rebentisch, Alexandra Combes, and many others we worked with.

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