Backend engineer at trivago, open-source maintainer, speaker. About me.

A Timelapse of Timelapse

Timelapse is a little open-source screen recorder for macOS. It takes a screenshot every second and creates a movie in the end.

To celebrate its unlikely 1.0 release today, I present here a "timelapse" of this project's journey. It just took ten years to get here.

2011 - How it all began

To be honest, I don't remember why I initially wrote the tool. I must have had a personal need for a screen recorder, I guess...

In May 2011, when I started the project, I was doing my Masters Degree in Computer Science. I might have needed the tool for University; most likely, however, I was just trying to find an excuse for not working on an assignment.

During that time, I wrote a lot of tools like that. Mainly to scratch a personal itch, learn a new programming language, or just have fun.

Among them are tools like a random sandwich generator for Subway (the American fast-food chain), DrawRoom, a keyboard-driven drawing app inspired by WriteRoom, and the obligatory CMS software, that I sold to clients. Surprisingly, none of them were a great success.

DrawRoom, a tool that I wrote around the same time, is a real piece of art. To this day it has five commits and a single Github star (by myself, don't judge...).

What I do know for sure is that I was unhappy with all existing screen recorders. They could roughly be categorized into these three groups:

  • Proprietary solutions that cost money or could call home.
  • Tools that didn't work on macOS.
  • Small, fragile, one-off scripts that people passed around in forums or as Github gists. They rarely worked as advertised.

Among the remaining tools were none that provided any timelapse functionality; so I set out to write my own.

This all sounds very epic, but in reality, I worked on it for a day. After five heroic commits on May 11, 2011, it sat there, idle, for seven years...

2018

A lot of time elapsed before anything exciting happened.

In January '18, seemingly out of nowhere, the first user filed a bug report. It was titled hung when creating the avi 😱. Turns out that a game developer from Canada, juul1a, was trying to use the tool to track her progress on an indie game — how cool is that?

To help her out, I decided to do some general cleanup, finally write down some instructions on how to even use the program, add a requirements.txt, and port the tool from mencoder to ffmpeg.

After that, timelapse was ready for prime-time. 🎬 Here is some live action from her videos featuring timelapses:

At that point, the tool was still very wobbly and could only be used from the commandline, but I began to see some potential for building a proper app from it; I just never found the time.

In October '18, I decided to ask for support during Hacktoberfest. I created a few tickets and labeled them with hacktoberfest to try and find contributors.

And then, I waited.

First, Shreya V Prabhu fixed an issue where a new recording was overwriting the previous one by adding a timestamp to the video name. Then Abner Campanha and Shane Creedon created a basic test structure. Gbenro Selere added a CI pipeline for Travis CI. It really worked, and the project was in much better shape after that!

2019

One year passes by, and Kyle Jones adds some contribution guidelines, while I move the CI pipeline to the newly released Github actions.

Chaitanya fixed a bug where the program would hang when the recording stopped by moving the video creation from threads to a separate process. He continued to make the codebase more robust and became a core contributor, reviewing pull requests and handling releases.

Thanks to orcutt989, the app now made use of type hints in Python 3.6.

gkpln3 added support for multi-monitor configurations. The screen captured will always be the one with the mouse on it.

2020

Fast forward to today, and after almost ten years, we finally created a true macOS app using the awesome py2app bundler. This should make the tool usable by non-developers.

Back to the Future

We reached the end of our little journey.

A long time has passed until 1.0. This project is a testament to the wonders of open source collaboration, and I am proud to work on it with contributors from around the world. It doesn't have to be a life-changing project to bring people together who have fun building things. If this were the end of the story, I'd be okay with that. I doubt it, though. Here's to the next ten years!

🎬 Download timelapse on Github.

Bonus

The video at the beginning is a timelapse of how I finish this article.
How meta.

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