Keeping the Community Connected - Gwibber! Interview with Ken Vandine, Ubuntu Desktop Integration Engineer


In this interview I talk to Ken Vandine, Ubuntu Desktop Integration Engineer, about Gwibber and my awkward first conversation with him about Gwibber.

Ken thank you so much for taking time for this interview. So let me give some history for folks who may not have heard me tell this story.

Ken if you remember Gwibber started out for me as a love/hate thing. The NC LoCo team had organized a Jaunty Release part and you came to support the team. I had no idea you worked for Canonical back when Jaunty (Ubuntu 9.04) was released and mentioned to you (in person at the release party) that, “I hate it! I uninstalled it!’ to which you replied you worked for Canonical on the Desktop team and were in fact one of the people working on Gwibber. I have to tell you I was a little embarrassed at that moment.

However, you graciously smiled and asked me exactly what was wrong with it and why I felt that way. You listened and to my surprise (and delight) asked me to reinstall it and to begin filing bugs and giving you feedback. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I followed your advice and gave it another chance as I not sure what I would do without Gwibber today. So Ken let’s talk about Gwibber shall we?


Amber Graner: How did Gwibber come about?

Ken Vandine: Gwibber was created by Ryan Paul, a writer for Ars Technica as a playground for writing articles about pygtk development. I don’t think he ever expected many other people would use it, but is thrilled it has evolved into what it is today.


AG: Were there moments when you wondered if Gwibber would catch on like it has?

KV: I never really thought much about it honestly, I was a Gwibber user long before I ever started hacking on it. I started out packaging Gwibber and got to know Ryan and found him to be a great upstream to work with. It was really the only choice if you wanted a single client for multiple services and really the only choice for some of them. I thought it was great to have a single interface into my facebook, twitter, and flickr accounts.


AG: What have been some of the more challenging moments in getting gwibber to the state it is today -- 3 cycles later? How were those challenges overcome?

KV: Gwibber has evolved a lot, and of course with that comes growing pains. When we starting looking at social integration for Ubuntu, Gwibber was the obvious choice for us. We had a great relationship with the upstream project, and it was included support for all the services we required. The biggest change we needed to make was splitting out the user interface, so gwibber could be a desktop service to provide multiple integration points. We needed applications to be able to use content provided from gwibber without the need for the client to be running. Going into the Karmic cycle we split out gwibber-service to be provide the functionality and make it available via DBus. This was a pretty significant change and ended up uncovering instability problems we had with sending large data structures of our content over DBus. We learned a lot from that and adapted, for Lucid we moved to desktopcouch for a data store and relied on it for most of the data access. This solved most of the instability problems we had in Karmic, but relying on desktopcouch also introduced some problems. Mainly performance, relying on couchdb to start when we needed it caused some headaches, it would take several seconds or more for couchdb to start alone, not to mention the heavy query we immediately ran on the DB to get the cached contents. This could easily drive startup time of Gwibber to 15 seconds or more on a netbook. It also exposed gwibber to another source of bugs, desktopcouch bugs then turn into Gwibber bugs.

Ultimately I think we can get some value out of desktopcouch, but not the way we tried to use it in Lucid, Gwibber 2.30. For Maverick (Gwibber 2.31.x) we have moved the data storage to sqlite, which provides very fast access to the data and reduces our footprint considerably.


AG: Looking back at my first conversation with you about Gwibber, you gave me a whole new outlook on filing bugs and what that means to the developer. You told me when I asked you “Don’t you hate to see new bugs being filed?” You said, “No filing bugs is a good thing. We can’t fix it if we don’t know it is broken. I would rather have you file a bug and give feedback than not say anything and not use the applications and worse tell others you don’t like and and not to bother with it.” Do you think this is the attitude that most developers take and if so how can we get that message out?

KV: I do think most developers feel this way, maybe more so in the open source culture than for proprietary developers. Most developers who work on proprietary applications mostly only get bug reports from internal engineers and their QA teams. There generally isn’t a channel for actual end users to communicate with the developers about bugs and feature requests. It is really an advantage we have with open source, bug reports, mailing lists and forums really provide us with great insight into how our users use our applications and help us build our roadmap. Many of us start out developing applications that meet our own personal requirements. It is really a great feeling when that expands into meeting the needs of other users, and we generally strive to satisfy the needs of the masses.


AG: Gwibber has undergone some really awesome face-lifts and included even more functionality since I first saw if back in Jaunty. What is on the horizon for Gwibber in Ubuntu 10.10 and what is being looked at in regards to improvements in the Ubuntu 11.04 (-N) cycle.

KV: In the Gwibber.2.31/Ubuntu Maverick cycle we have created libgwibber which provides application developers an API to integrate their applications with Gwibber and provides some GTK widgets they can just embed in their applications. For the Natty cycle I hope to extend libgwibber’s API and provide more GTK widgets. My hope is to get all the existing pieces of the gwibber client implemented as GTK widgets in libgwibber-gtk then build a new client that just re-uses those widgets. This will simplify maintenance and help ensure that other applications can get the most from the API.


AG: Is Gwibber strictly an Ubuntu project or is included in GNOME? If it is not a GNOME project are there plans on getting it included in GNOME? Are there other distributions using Gwibber? If so do you know which distributions are using it now?

KV: Gwibber is neither a GNOME or Ubuntu project. Gwibber uses GNOME technologies and has a great relationship with the Ubuntu development community. I am not sure if Gwibber really fits as a GNOME module, but perhaps could someday be included as an external dependency. There are packages for gwibber for most distributions, and last I heard it was the default for openSUSE.


AG: How can people who use Gwibber and want to get involved and contribute to it do so? How can more non-developers help with the project? What areas are you needing the most help with in the last part of the Maverick cycle? Documentation, Translations, Bug Fixes etc.

KV: I think our biggest need is in documentation and bug triaging. We could always use more help with looking at the incoming bugs, finding duplicates and making sure someone looks at the rest. As far as documentation goes, I would love to see someone write user documentation (in mallard, and integrated in yelp) and maybe even help with the developer docs for libgwibber. I want to do as much as I can to enable other developers to get the most of of gwibber as a desktop service.


AG: Ken is there anything I haven’t asked you about Gwibber that you would like to add?

KV: No, but I want to thank you for all your contributions. You have done great things for the Ubuntu community, please keep it up!

Thank you Ken for such kind words and thank you again for taking time to discuss Gwibber and I am looking forward to seeing how Gwibber and my desktop function and feel in 10.10.10 and beyond.


For more info on how you can download, use, participate and contribute to Ubuntu, visit: .

Questions, Comments suggestions can be sent to Amber at: amber [AT]



Of course, as of today, Gwibber does not work in Ubuntu, as Twitter has disabled HTTP Basic Authentication.....

Follow along as Ubuntu enthusiast and Community organizer Amber Graner helps put the "You" in Ubuntu.

Amber Graner is an active Ubuntu community member and organizer who encourages everyone around her to participate, support, and learn about Ubuntu and Open Source. With a smile and a sense of humor, Amber reminds people that there is a place for everyone in the Ubuntu community – regardless of technical skill level (or lack thereof). She is constantly looking for people, places, and events within the Ubuntu community that help inspire Ubuntu users to participate actively within the Ubuntu community. Email Amber at amber AT ubuntu-user DOT com.


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