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The Thoughter Origin Story
Posted by Doug on Sun Sep 16, 2018
The Thoughter project has a long history. Let me take you back to the early 2000s, where a mindless zombie named Facebook emerged from the rubble of the dot-com explosion moaning something about "daaataaa!". Many lesser zombies followed but could not eat enough precious data to survive. Facebook ate them up also. Being an ambitious little wanna-be college dropout startup millionaire myself, I came up with my own idea. A wonderful, awful idea, as they say. You see, one day I was making eyes with a girl in class, but instead of just asking her out, or whatever you're supposed to do, I tried to think how an Internet service could make the whole mating ritual less stressful. What if I sent that girl, what was her name? Rachel? Sure. What if I sent Rachel a message asking her out, but she only received the message if she also sent a message asking me out? From a technical standpoint it was an easy project so I started work immediately while Rachel went and hooked up with another guy. However just a week later a thought stopped me: who would trust a weird creep like me with all their secret crushes? So the idea was abandoned.

Fast forward about fifteen years and to my surprise people have no problem feeding Mr. Facebook and friends all their personal data, often times much more sensitive than college crushes. Nobody cares about privacy! Hooray! Time to bring that idea back, right? Well not so fast. The pendulum swingeth back. People are starting to feel the effects of sharing all their secrets with creepy nerds. Data leaks, targeted ads, invasive tracking - the zombies have been overfed and the crossbows are coming out.

So back to square one. To respect people's privacy the service needed to be a Trusted Third Party. There has to be high confidence that nobody, even me, is peaking at people's secrets. Luckily I had spent a decade in cramped cubicles undergoing fluorescent-light-induced mutations that gave me the cryptographic superpowers needed for the job. Over the same time period Twitter had popularized the concept of hashtags, and I realized the service could be used for more than awkward crushes. In fact any situation where one person wants to know if the other is thinking the same thing. Now to come up with a name...fast forward ten seconds aanndd...I had it!

After that it took a few more years to finish. I lost count how many exactly. If you're a software engineer you're laughing right now. The idea is dead simple, why did it take so long to implement? Well it turns out that respecting people's privacy to the utmost, especially if you consider even me as an "attacker", is way harder than I expected, and there is still work to do on that front. It also turns out that having young kids, old dogs, a loving wife (no not Rachel), a full-time job, a first house, a dozen side projects fighting for dominance, hundreds of dead side projects moaning from the grave and...well, you get the point. No pity of course, but don't laugh either! I put a chunk of my soul into Thoughter and really hope it has some meagre value for society, even if it only helps a nerd or two like me get a date.
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