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Pokémon Go, from the Beach: Two Perspectives

Pokémon Go, from the Beach: Two Perspectives

I went for a walk to the beach today (not something I do often), and ended up at the end of Pico Street near dusk, right on the Santa Monica beach boardwalk. I was surprised to find not swarms of beachgoers coming home from a hot day in the sun, but instead, swarms of Pokémon Go players trying to snag a CP 875 Aerodactyl.

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I, for one, am at Level 15 (go Team Mystic!) and hip to the game that reminds me of my youth playing Pokémon Gold on the Game Boy Color in the back seat of the family SUV on the way to grandpa’s. And I knew lots of people were playing it, and that the Shutters on the Beach Hotel just happened to be a lured PokéStop at the time.

But even I was taken aback by what appeared to be living proof of a digital obsession so widespread we should seriously consider integrating voting functionality into the app for the upcoming election.

There are two different ways to view what I saw today, and both perhaps speak to a distinct vision of humanity. Like a wave unlike the ones tip-toeing to the sand at the beach today, both views came crashing over me at once.

In the first, humanity is more united than we appear, and not as divided as our politicians and media would have us believe. The power of technology to bring together people of all races, ages, and backgrounds towards a common goal. The fact that kids are going outside again and breathing fresh air, that adults who have severe social phobias can connect with each other over their mutual Pokédexes. I marvel at the optimism of free association and expression, the sweet air of voluntary and uncoerced engagement, the triumph of innovation, the cross-cultural barriers being smashed, free trade and the free exchange of ideas, art, technology and progress across ethnicities and languages creating a better world one Poké Ball at a time.

In the other, a technology obsession to the point of addiction, a culture starved for real art and craving bytes as a substitute for cosmopolitan nourishment. A megacorporation (or two) slurping up billions of data points from all citizens of the world to be used to create even more addicting and useless games with an even broader appeal. The best minds of our generation sucked into a hamster wheel of so-called technological progress while ignoring the real problems facing society and the world. The talking heads of the media catching Pikachu on air instead of holding our politicians accountable. To think of the children wasting away in fictional worlds instead of engaging with their peers and learning how to forge real connections in lieu of digital ones. And of course I could not help but think of this episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

What hath the PokéGods wrought?

It all, I suppose, depends on your perspective. But whatever you do out there, look both ways before you cross the street to catch that Caterpie. Happy hunting.

July 24, 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