Happy Birthday, Hopper-ex

I was laid off from what I called “the last Director job in the Portland area” last week. Not that there aren’t people working in Director in Portland (there’s still a Director programmer at my old office), but I don’t expect to see any advertisements for Director programmers in the metro area in the near future.

Coincidentally, today — my last day on the Director job — is the tenth anniversary of the inception of Director’s worst-kept secret: hopper-ex.

In the spring of 1997, the Director 6 beta (codename: Hopper) had finished and boxes were shipping out. The listserv for the beta testers (hopper-l) was about to be shut down. Several people on the beta test group wondered if Macromedia might keep the list running, as it had provided a unique chance to interact with the Director team, from management to the engineers, away from the incredible noise (as hard to imagine as it might be nowdays) of DIRECT-L. The powers that be declined, but I had a Mac web and mail server in my office and some rudimentary listserv software, and in a few minutes I had created hopper-ex and invited everyone on the list to join, if they wanted.

I was able to move fast because I’d already been contemplating creating a list for Director book authors. At the time, I’d been working on The Lingo Programmers Reference, and I had a lot of questions about commands I hadn’t used that I didn’t really want to ask in a public forum, for fear of looking like a complete doofus. At least not until the book came out. So I was ready.

At first, I thought the list should only be for authors, Macromedians, and ex-beta testers, but within a few days I made two promises to myself: I wouldn’t give out the names of the people on the list and I wouldn’t restrict the list in any way. I told people to feel free to invite anyone they wanted to to join but asked that they only invite people they felt would add something worthwhile to the mix. Each successive beta has brought new people, and others have joined in periodically, but the number of subscribers has been stable at about 200 for a long time.

I’ve asked people to pull links to the signup page and references to the list in books without any fuss. While there have been clashes of personalities and a few people who’ve signed off in disgust, the self-policing “don’t shit where you eat” philosophy has worked remarkably well for a decade.

I’m not going to invite everyone who reads this to join hopper-ex. The secret that was never really a secret has been referenced on the Web for nearly as long as the list has been in existence. But I’m taking this opportunity to let people know that the list is out there. It’s not a great list, it’s not a huge list, but it’s a part of my Director history that I’m proud of. And if you know someone who’s been a Director developer for a while and you’re interested in dipping your toes into the hopper, ask them if they’re on hopper-ex and if they’ll give you the login address.

As for myself, I’ll probably keep an ear to the ground while I’m freelancing again, but I suspect I’ve done my last Director contract. Unless you count a project I’m looking at that’s converting an ancient Director application to Flash CS3. Fortunately, I’ve got a Mac capable of running every version of Director since 4 and they’re all installed!