Build log: Watercooler / Workbreak

I’m diving deeper into the idea discussed last week about a mix of pomodoro timer and breaktime video chat that I’m calling either Watercoolor or Workbreak. No code yet, I’m thinking about the simplest tech for implementation and how to attract the first 100 users.

Actually, my primary concern right now is whether or not I should build the thing in the first place. I’m keenly sensitive to where I decide to spend my time right now (possibly as a result of this blog and my efforts to try and keep my active projects list short) and I was really hoping to break away from a strictly software based project and do something more interesting. However, the more I think about the project, the more I think I can put a basic version together with a minimal amount of work. Plus I like the concept! I think I would enjoy taking 5 minute breaks to chat with other people about projects.

Frontend choices

Obviously my first instinct was to build on iOS. Easy to do local notifications when your timer is up, easy to get video from the camera, etc. Distribution is the problem here. Distributing to randos is entirely through the app store (enterprise distribution is still too hard because it’s designed for enterprise) which means a level of polish that I simply don’t want to provide for a version 1. App icons of multiple sizes, app descriptions, privacy policies, app review - all these things make it hard to publish a true beta. And I want to build a true beta.

My second thought was a Chrome extension. I don’t really care that it’s not 100% of the browser market, it’s enough of the market that I’ll be able to tell if people want to use it. Easy enough to make a browser action button that displays the timer, easy enough to send notifications when the timer is up, easy enough to open a window to start a new break video session. I don’t know what it takes to publish on the Chrome extension store, it doesn’t seem like much effort. Obvious drawbacks are not having a fucking clue how chrome background extensions work other than the simple example case I went through and javascript 🤔

Lastly, I could still leverage Swift and make a quickie Mac app. Again, the syntax is straightforward, I’m sure AVFoundation (camera) is similar to iOS and distribution can still be done ad-hoc and gatekekeper-approved, particularly now that Mac dev certs are a part of the yearly developer membership. But organizing and building a menubar Mac app (I am so sorry, I know you don’t need another) is unfamiliar. There are unknowns and it feels a bit more “heavy” that a chrome extension.


Regardless of frontend platform, I will need a WebRTC server running somewhere, possibly with other negotiation servers (I’ve looked only briefly into this). It seems like there’s plenty of open source solutions and a $5 Digital Ocean box should cover enough usage to start. There are a few free services which I may use - PeerJS looks good but I’m unsure of how up-to-date it is since some of the examples are broken. Presumably you’d have to use JS for the frontend for this one too. Even if I used a free (or paid) service I still need to keep track of which clients are “on break” and looking for a connection. Despite the upcoming shutdown of Parse, I may still use it for this purpose! We have a year, after all.