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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
My Top Ten Internet Gripes

My Top Ten Internet Gripes

Ok, girls and boys, time for some venting about the state of the internet today. Let’s look at some problems that we all face on a regular basis–dare I say first world problems?–and maybe some ways they can be fixed.


1. Facebook Grammar

This has been a problem from the beginning. Nothing gets my goat more than seeing a generalized plural pronoun used out of laziness, especially when Facebook has the gender information that would make the proper pronoun instantly accessible. If the user has identified herself/himself as female/male, why not say “X has updated her/his profile picture”?


2. Country Drop-down Menus

They are on every website, and it’s getting to be enough, people. Why should I have to wade through 150 sovereign nations to find my own country, especially if that country is the biggest market for the website I’m on? Why can’t websites at least auto-select my country so I don’t have to click and scroll, or click and roll, or type “U-U-U” like some MS-DOS hacker to find the United States? There is a good solution to this problem here, but I’m interested in even better solutions. Or, not having them at all.


3. Google’s Two-Tier Drive/Docs

Since Google’s transition to Google Drive, it would make all the sense in the world to have one drive. One drive for one group of folders. However, Google doesn’t see it this way. Instead, Google splits their drive into “My Drive” and “Shared with Me.” It may seem like a natural split, except that I can never remember whether docs I am collaborating on were docs I created or docs which were shared with me. And why should it matter? What’s worse, when you search for docs, it only searches inside the active folder. Which means often I am searching twice in the same search box for the same document.


4. Forgot Password Scripts

We get it already! If you forgot your password, you click Forgot Password, then you get an email with your password information and maybe a reset link, then you click reset, then you go to the site, then it asks you to create a new password, then half the time it asks you to log in again with the password you just created (why?), then it sends you a NEW email telling you your password has been successfully reset, and if it wasn’t you that you should call them and tell them. Why all this trouble? What’s so hard about resetting a password? If someone hasn’t already, someone should build a better plug-and-play solution. Or I should 🙂


5. Loading Gifs that Don’t Load

I know it’s because the gif is loaded with the site assets and only replaced after the AJAX call to the server returns data, and sometimes the backend is broken or you lose the network at a crucial moment, but for users, this is the internet equivalent of Apple’s spinning rainbow of death. The fact is, users don’t know or care why it isn’t working, they just see that there’s content that should be there, and isn’t. It’s frustrating, and it would be simple to fix–don’t have a loading gif onload, but instead only show it while data is actually loading. Or not have a loading gif at all.


6. Pinterest Rip-Offs

You’ve seen them all over the place. Pinterest had a cool liquid multi-column layout, so now every site on the internet needs to adapt that style. The reason it works for Pinterest is because it’s precisely what the Pinterest community needs. It doesn’t work for your blog, or some random photography site, or Plus, it’s unoriginal and it stinks. Make your own shitty layout, and leave original design to…not you. See here for a list of Pinterest ripoffs.


7. “Share this Purchase” Requests

We know you want to make your ecommerce site “social,” but no one, ever, is going to be enthusiastic about posting their purchases on Facebook. Not only is it in bad taste to brag about your new $200 three-slot toaster to an unwieldy group of fake friends whose preferences and tastes are unknowable, it’s also not realistic to think that these posts will result in any conversions. It’s best not to insult the intelligence of your buyers and leave these requests out entirely.


8. Facebook Open Graph

The proliferation of auto-shared Open Graph actions is out of control. My Facebook feed no longer provides any useful information and instead shows me a litany of useless, and sometimes embarrassing, information about my friends. For certain things, like music and offers, it’s kinda cool, but for everything else it stinks of desperation for Facebook and the advertiser in question. On this note, Facebook tricking people into sharing all their content by replacing “Authorize App” with “Okay, Watch Video” isn’t cool. Full disclosure: I am partially responsible for this, having brought Ustream to Open Graph in April.


9. Late-Loading Site Content

You’ve been there. The page starts loading, and you see a link you want to click, so before the page is finished loading, you attempt to click it. But just at that moment, some banner slides in from the top of the page and pushes everything down. So instead of clicking “Benghazi militia captured outside Tripoli,” you click “Doris Day impersonator dies from bike pump beating.” The worst perpetrator of this practice is CNN, which insists on telling you you’re using the US edition and asks if you want to make it the default (what else would I want?).


10. Unwanted Noise

This is a common frustration. My computer should not make any noise I don’t want it to make, and therefore, any website that is creating unwanted sound is a complete nuisance. Sometimes I’ll have my speakers on and one of those annoying talking heads greeting me will start babbling, or a preroll ad for a car will start zooming, and before you know it, everyone at the office is pissed. The only time I need my speakers is for a video or music that I voluntarily turn on. Everything else is a distraction. There are some workarounds to this but nothing that is that satisfying. I would put auto-playing video in this category as well.

October 26, 2012Comments are DisabledRead More
Notes on Friendship (and Facebook)

Notes on Friendship (and Facebook)

I found this article the other day, and it isn’t that recent article by today’s terms (read: 6 months ago) but it is still relevant.

First and foremost, I found it particularly interesting how Deresiewicz tied the history of friendship to our latest foray into “faux” friendship, seeming to trace a line directly from Plato to today in a highly critical view of what we’ve “done” to friendship. But he mischaracterizes the root cause of the problem–it is is not Facebook or MySpace that made us who we are, just like it wasn’t the invention of writing that made people write 10-page long letters. Could not a monk in Ireland lament in 1350 that his ability to write 10-page long missives to his clerical compatriot in Kiev hampered his ability to maintain a close friendship based on conversation and personal intimacy? Certainly Jefferson and Adams did not maintain their letter-writing friendship at the expense of their conversations, but it allowed their friendship to grow and be maintained when distance hampered their communication.

Point being, Facebook may be a technology that enables briefer, less intimate intercourse, but it is not Facebook’s fault that we use it for that. Indeed, Facebook is the latest technology that allows us to do what we seemingly want to do more than anything else–perceive the illusion of friendship without doing the work necessary to create and maintain a Platonic one. But what’s wrong with that? Certainly the telegraph-writers were a proud and noble breed for quite sometime after mobile telephones were commonplace. Certainly there were some horseback riders riding bareback long after the invention of the saddle. But technology clearly enabled some to communicate and ride horses better and more efficiently. We might lament the loss of the agrarian culture, but there’s a reason most of us live in cities. Maybe we are naturally short-focused, uninterested, shallow, petty friend-whore-mongers and Facebook is the first tool that allows us to be what we want to be??

This article to me seems pretty nostalgic, ironically posted on an online forum where comments range from “Good article! XOXO” to “Make me your Facebook friend!” But it does address quite well the changing social relationship of friendship, and it doesn’t lie when it observes that “We haven’t just stopped talking to our friends as individuals, at such moments, we have stopped thinking of them as individuals. We have turned them into an indiscriminate mass, a kind of audience or faceless public. We address ourselves not to a circle, but to a cloud.”

However, like the saddle and the steamboat, maybe that cloud is ultimately an improvement in our lives, not as a social change bound to undo us, but a critical change in the patterns of friendship that stretches, as the author observes, back to Plato. Yes, our world would look much more different today if the typical Tweet was 5,000 words long and every Facebook message ended with “And thus justice is more profitable than injustice,” but it would look different without the millions of improvements to our lives that we don’t even consider. If anything, Facebook has allowed old friends to reconnect in adulthood, new friends to be made around the world, and networks to be created–certainly not close, intimate cliques like one might find in the comraderie of a small town, but diverse networks with people from different backgrounds and experiences, bringing the whole world closer together. These rapid connections have smoothed relations between people and even nations, substituting physical rivalry and enmity for petty online squabbles. Think about being at war today with a country like France, with millions of Facebook users to exchange bickering “fighting words” with. Think about being Facebook friends with an enemy soldier. It sounds absurd. But at the same time, it gives you an idea of the closeness created by an “arbitrary cloud” of “friends.”

I would say in response to this article that Facebook may claim, or want to be, a space for friends, but it is not. I know who my real friends are and who my online relationships pretend to be. I know that the Facebook feed is not a real representation of what my friends are doing–but that’s OK. It’s ok to fantasize and explore new relationships from the safety of the internet. It’s ok to experiment with dialogue in short, opportune bursts instead of long, vulnerable missives. And it’s ok to openly court friends in places one has never been able to do so.

At the same time, when it comes time to find the real world and find real friends, people haven’t had a problem doing that. If anything, technology has given us more leisure time to spend time with friends. Having multiple close friends is not a bad thing, nor is having hundreds of online friends. Just because the word “friend” has been diluted, doesn’t mean the concept of friendship is any less real.

Anyway that’s what I’m thinking. I really enjoyed the article, but as a commentary on today’s friendship the author makes some bold claims that aren’t supported by the way in which we actually use social networking.

August 3, 2010Comments are DisabledRead More
The World Market

The World Market

It occurred to me recently that web companies, more so than non-tech companies, need to keep in mind that the scalability of their application can go beyond its intended locale. Facebook, for instance, was rather shortsighted when it came to scaling its product internationally. It took several years for them to develop an international, translated version, and even then it was available only in four languages. As a result of Facebook’s delay, millions of users in China ended up signing up for a blatantly copied Facebook clone, and who knows how many other customers were lost worldwide.

The point is, the world internet market, especially in the developing world, is growing at a slower rate than that in the United States. For a lot of businesspeople, this means that it is a less important target market. But look at the numbers. There are over a billion people in China and India; sub-Saharan Africa will have 1.5 billion people by the end of 2050. These numbers, combined with spreading internet technology and a wealth of new entrepreneurial and technical talent from these countries, mean that the future market in “Web 2.0” is not in Palo Alto, but in Nairobi or Bangalore or Hainan.

I read a recent article that, due to the fact that cell phones are the primary communication tool for Kenyans, cell phone programming is a fast growing skill in Nairobi, Kenya, and more importantly, the Kenyans who use cell phones are a fast growing market. Meanwhile, thousands of companies in India’s Silicon Valley compete for prominence in the Western world, trying to sell their products to American and European buyers. But pretty soon, the Indian population will be demanding these services, too, and it is only a matter of time before the “Developing” world market explodes–and explodes big.

So, it’s really important for “Web 2.0” companies in the States to think big as well. Developers should consider installing translation packs into their sites–even for English–so they can scale into other language in the future. Most importantly, they should follow the example of Google and Microsoft and recruit global talent. The untapped global market is a sleeping giant right now, but when it gets revved up billions of people will be looking for the same level of internet reliability and satisfaction that the “modern” world has come to expect. When that happens, make sure your company is on top of it.

This is why I like the idea of midVentures. As a global integrator of sorts, we are not only helping ourselves bridge into a 21st century, international internet community but we are bringing the international community into the fold as legitimate–and competitive–players in the American market.

August 18, 2008Comments are DisabledRead More