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Why I Only Read HN

Why I Only Read HN

I used to read everything.  BBC News was my go-to for international news.  Then the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes. For a while, I visited TechCrunch and Mashable daily. I used to get a lot of news from Facebook and Twitter. I followed reddit religiously. I used to think that reading as much media as possible was important for me to become good at my job. I used to think that reading news was productive. It turns out it is not productive.

So, for three years now, my only source of news has been Hacker News. I have discovered that:

  • Anything important that happens in the world–even if it has nothing to do with technology–ends up on HN anyway. It is the best portal to legitimate news from other sites.
  • I can let the community at HN guide my news consumption. They are the smartest, most engaged community of any site on the internet (in my opinion). Which means not only can they filter bullshit out for me, but they bring up insightful points worth mentioning, letting me cut through to the essential sides of an issue.
  • HN happens to be a very diverse community. Before HN jumps down my throat for saying that, what I mean by diverse is intellectually diverse. Every article submitted to HN goes through a rigorous vetting process by which all possible interpretations of an issue are presented, debated, and usually respectfully addressed.
  • HN helps me stay on top of my industry–that’s always a plus. But it also helps me stay on top of politics, economics, world affairs, sociology, psychology, etc.
  • A lot of things make waves on HN that don’t really affect much of the rest of the world, but they’re really important. For example, I followed with sadness the brilliant and hopeful writings of Pieter Hintjens as he died of cancer. When he chose euthanasia, the mainstream media barely made a peep. But I’ve been thinking about him for weeks.
  • I actually learn new things from HN, which is more than I can say for CNN and the rest.

The team at YC has done a very good job of building a thoughtful, engaged, smart and introspective community, without allowing it to grow out of control and become corrupted like has happened to so many other great sites. I’m proud to be a part of it and contribute where I can.

November 1, 2016Comments are DisabledRead More
A Personal API

A Personal API

Why is the API model traditionally built around a central entity node connected to many consumer nodes, rather than the other way around? Why is it possible for me to connect with various APIs from cloud services like Twilio and Dropbox but I can’t create an API for myself that allows companies to connect with me?

Instead of going to the cloud, why can’t the cloud come to me?

Put it this way. I watch Star Trek on both Hulu and Netflix. My episode history is out of sync on both platforms. Why is that? Because these are separate services with their own backends. There’s no way for them to talk to each other, and there isn’t because there’s only one point of intersection: me.

But what if I could store my own episode history in a personal API, which then Hulu & Netflix would talk to? Both would have permission to update my episode history, and both would have read access. I would give Netflix billing access to the banking endpoint of my API, and so they would enable additional access on their platform. They could push content to my API endpoint and it could be synced between all my devices, including my phone which would also have read access to my API.

Everything would remain “in the cloud,” but the cloud would be my own personal cloud. A mini-cloud, if you will.

There are several types of information that could be stored in a personal API:

  • My personal contact information
  • My correspondence
  • My media
  • My preferences: brands, things I read, movies I like
  • My shopping history
  • My payment information
  • My medical history and prescriptions

Pretty much all the things I do online I could do with a personal API, but there would be a few advantages introduced by creating a new protocol:

  • I would be able to control my own data. Companies/services would need to request access to my data on an individualized basis. I would only give data that would be needed for each service.
  • Privacy becomes completely up to me. I would be able to control how access to my data is granted and revoked. My data is only in place accessible only through authentication to my API. I can revoke access tokens upon request.
  • “Add-ons” to my API service could be enabled like encryption or new REST endpoints, that would allow me to evolve what my API is able to achieve.
  • I could create direct P2P connections with fellow users of the Personal API protocol without having to connect through a third party server.
  • The protocol could integrate with multiple devices, but the nature of these devices would need to change. For example, if I wanted to send a message to my brother, right now I send a text message to his phone which gets routed through AT&T’s cell phone towers (for example). But with a personal API, I would send a message to his API endpoint, and his devices would all pull from it. So it would be like iMessage, but an iMessage that would integrate with *everything* I interact with.
  • On that note, the “internet of things” becomes much more possible. Instead of having to program all my devices, my devices would be adapted to me. When I buy a new product, it requests access to my API, and then can interact with other services that also have access to my API.
  • It weakens the government data dragnet. Right now, one clandestine program by the NSA can tap into Facebook once, and have access to everyone’s data. With a distributed personal API, the government would need to focus its attention on just nefarious or dangerous individuals. The legal status of a personal API would be more akin to a lockbox in my house than a self-storage center that is analogous to the current cloud.

If a personal API protocol were to be created, that would only be the first and easiest step. Cloud services would need to play ball, adapting their account creation and sign in systems, not to mention data access and storage, to work off of my personal cloud rather than their common cloud.

Speaking of Facebook, everything I have listed above is something Facebook could create tomorrow (or Google or Apple), and they may even be considering doing so. They certainly have access to the data necessary to create the API. But they also have the problem of centrally storing that data, creating a single point of failure/weakness/whatever. A centrally stored backend does not meet the criteria of a truly personal API listed above. It needs to be distributed.

Again, it’s a specious concept, and I can’t be first person to think about it, but I would be interested in A) If anyone has fleshed out an idea like this a bit more or attempted to build it, B) Either way, if anyone would be interested in working on something like this with me.

Would love your input in the comments.

October 13, 20142 commentsRead More
I Used DuckDuckGo for a Week and Had to Switch Back. Here’s why.

I Used DuckDuckGo for a Week and Had to Switch Back. Here’s why.

It was really hard to switch off of Google, and when I finally did it, I didn’t think I would switch back.

In the past, whenever I’ve tried another search engine, I have failed. Searching is such a natural, compulsory thing to do on the internet, that whenever I have navigated to Bing or DuckDuckGo, I find myself staring at a blinking cursor not entirely sure what to search for. The conscious decision to make a search has always interfered with my ability to search naturally.

DuckDuckGoBut the recent revelations about PRISM and the NSA have led to a surge in interest in cutting the chord to big cloud services like Google whose data collection practices are well known. So, following the herd, I decided it was time for me to switch my default search engine. It wasn’t enough to remember to navigate to DuckDuckGo for searches; instead, I had to change my address bar default search engine in Chrome to force me to use the new engine.

Before I knew it, my 50 or so odd searches a day were going through DuckDuckGo instead of Google.

Now, I love that DuckDuckGo doesn’t track searches. In terms of their commitment to privacy and their users, I don’t think there’s a better option. And I love that there’s an alternative for people concerned about their data being collected. But it took me only a week using DuckDuckGo to appreciate the little things that Google does that still make it a far superior product.

Google is Faster

I didn’t think this would be something I even noticed, but it was apparent immediately that with DuckDuckGo, search results take a fraction of a second longer to show up. It must be no more than 200-300 ms, but it really makes a difference. Every time I am faced with that momentary pause all I can think about is switching over to Google to get faster gratification.

Google Keeps Up with Timely Search Queries

Earlier this week, I searched for “Pride,” expecting to find out more about Pride Weekend in San Francisco. DuckDuckGo seemed to have no understanding of that context, whereas Google’s first results were exactly what I was looking for. It wouldn’t require tracking, just an IP lookup to know where I am and return timely results. Google’s natural integration with their news engine is invaluable to my search experience.

Google Doesn’t Index Sites with Code Errors

This is huge for me. Since I am coding all day long, I need to be able to search for errors that crop up from time to time if I don’t understand them. There was one PHP error this morning that I searched (DuckDuckGo’d?), and the top 20 results were sites that had thrown this error. The sites were destinations like OneFreeCoupon.com–completely irrelevant to my query. Google, as usual, returned very useful StackOverflow results that got me on the right track.

Google Knows When Not to Surface Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia, but sometimes it isn’t the most relevant result. The “Pride” search is a good example, but in general if it isn’t a proper noun, I am more likely to go for a news or video result than Wikipedia. DuckDuckGo seems to surface Wikipedia way too much. I like the way Google does it, especially when they float the Wikipedia results to the right so I always know where to find the article.

In short, I love that DuckDuckGo is gaining interest, and that Google has competition, and that there are choices for all of us when we use the internet. But I tried, and for the things that matter to me, it seems that Google is just a better experience. I hope DuckDuckGo improves the product, because eventually I would love to switch back. But philosophical alignment isn’t enough to get me to use an inferior product.

So, Google, you have me back for now.

June 28, 2013Comments are DisabledRead More
“Startup”

“Startup”

This is a layperson guide* for what the guy you meet on the plane to Vegas means when he tells you “I have a startup.”

  • I’m building a Chrome plugin that lists all the parks in Salt Lake City on top of all Mormon-operated blogs using a proprietary Google search algorithm
  • I work full time as a product manager/blogger/evangelist/entrepreneur-in-residence/babysitter and I want an excuse to quit my job and/or get fired while saving face and/or something to talk about at my 5-year reunion
  • I have a tech cofounder who’s a full time engineer at Apple/Yahoo/Etsy and I promised him 5% of my company to do all the work
  • We’re not incorporated yet but the product is what’s really important
  • I talked to an investor friend of a friend who really liked the idea
  • Everyone thinks I work 90 hours a week but I spent a good 80% of my day yesterday on Reddit/Facebook/Chess.com
  • We are pre-launch but we’ve already had a reporter at TechCrunch promise to write about us: that’s our marketing plan. That and Viral.
  • Making friends/finding Salt Lake City parks is broken. So we’re fixing it with technology.
  • I’m friends with lots of other founders and they say there’s a need for what we’re building.
  • I have no college debt and my parents pay my rent so revenue isn’t really a concern. What we are going for is traction.
  • Traction will be easy because our product is free. We will even incentivize people to use it with mobile gamification and Reddit Gold
  • Acquisition will be easy because there are a lot of Salt Lake City mapping companies that would love to have our data
  • Mormons are our main market and there are 24 million of them
  • As soon as we Show HN our product we will all quit our jobs and go full time to double down on our traction
  • Even if everything I think about my “startup” is wrong, there’s millionaire in Korea/Japan/Santa Barbara who will probably invest in us anyway

*Written from unfortunate experience

January 18, 2013Comments are DisabledRead More