My Next Billion Users

I'm trying to change the world - a goal my wife has always aspired to, but which I've only recently thought about in earnest. Crazy you say? Perhaps...

I attend a fair number of conferences and usergroups - large and small, near and far - and generally speaking I get a lot out of them professionally. That's not only from a technical perspective, but also in terms of professional connections and conversations. A few weeks ago I was in Miami for the SunshinePHP conference. The weather was fantastic for February and at times it was hard to stay inside and attend sessions rather than lay out by the pool.

After lunch on the first day Rasmus Lerdorf, creator of PHP, gave a keynote talk. As with most keynotes, this talk wasn't about a particular framework, methodology, tool, or other highly technical concept. Instead, this talk was about how developers have created some neat things, but it's time to start doing meaningful things. It's time to start changing the world (again). Not a lofty goal at all it seems.

At the time I was thinking: "Sure, the creator of PHP can say such things, but how can I change the world?" At the same time I was thinking (egotistically) "I've created some pretty useful things, doesn't that count?" No. It does not.

Cat Pictures Galore

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram... these are all amazing projects that have undoubtedly changed how we share information and communicate. Facebook has well over a billion active users. Even discounting for fake accounts that is a monumental number. But Rasmus asked an interesting question: "Where is Facebook going to get its next billion users?"

The fact is, that next billion users is still worried about getting adequate food and shelter; they do not care what your cat looks like with a piece of bread around its face.

Rasmus continued with his talk, telling us about how the company he works for, Etsy, is helping artists in other countries sell their work without the traditional "middle-man" who marks up a product for sale to first-world customers, cutting the artist out of almost all of the profit. This isn't just removing a social leech from the chain, it's helping people elevate themselves.

So what does this mean for you? What does it mean for me? Maybe nothing. But it is making me consider what projects I'm working on, how they impact others, and what else I could be doing. Maybe it's not helping starving artists in Mexico, but if I can help another developer learn how to make amazing products, I feel like I'm a small part of this machine.

I'm a Terrible Capitalist

My conference speaking and other community efforts help enable others to create amazing things with technology. I see new ideas pouring out of hackathons all over the country (and other countries) and they inspire me to keep teaching. The next time you get that creative spark, don't dismiss the concept because you don't have a funding model. Tell others about your idea and encourage them to join you, or motivate them pursue their own subversive projects.

What else are you doing do help others? Do you develop with purpose? And where will your next billion users come from?

The mexican painted plate photo above is courtesy of @EvelynGiggles on Flickr.

Published on March 5, 2014