Thoughts on APIStrat Panel on The Future of the Internet

About a month ago, I attended the API Strategy and Practice conference in San Francisco. Overall, a pretty good conference and, as always, much of the value was in connecting with people between and after sessions.

One panel discussion was concluded with the question ‘what is the future of the internet?’. The responses seemed to fall into two categories 1) code/APIs everywhere and/or 2) intelligent consumption and composition of the available APIs.

I wanted to point out that the first category of thought reflected the view of a (now defunct) little technology outfit just down the highway who voiced the credo of ‘the network is the computer’. They had a great spec/implementation for a technology called JINI that very much reflected the philosophy of ‘be a node and not a hub’ – inherently scalable and cluster-able running practically anywhere.

The second group reminded me of the great AI gold rush in the mid-90s, when ‘intelligent agents‘ were going to manage all our personal data and book travel and plan meetings based on all of the metadata that we surround ourselves with. Companies were funded and failed trying to deliver on this vision (General Magic anyone?). Perhaps it was an idea before it’s time and enough has changed and opened up that it might work this time. We shall see.

 

Women And Tech Events

Not even sure where to start with this psycho-babble rant I just read.

To me, the whole thing reads like an insecure individual trying to justify their warped world view by blaming it on everyone else. Sure, I know that there are bad things that happen to women at tech conferences (and elsewhere) and that is stupid and inexcusable. But, to use that as justification for the view that *all* men are rapist/gropers/whatever is also stupid and inexcusable. The simple fact is that if you are looking to be offended, you will find offense in everything and everybody around you. Especially, if you play both sides of a situation: if someone engages with you, it is for strictly sexual purposes and if they don’t then they are *obviously* denigrating you because you are a female. There is no good way out of that spiral other than recognizing that the premise is setup for self fulfilling distrust.

Being guilty of whatever darkness is in another person’s head is just raw prejudice with a unhealthy dose of over-generalization/labeling. Sure, lets play the game (fill in the blanks): All ______ are lazy. All _____ are cheap. All _____ are bad drivers. And all men at tech events are misogynistic predators. Right.

I have some recent evidence on this front. I was at a tech conference in San Francisco last month and had some fantastic conversations with some of the female attendees there (and the male ones as well). Topics ranged from privacy, genetic testing, pregnancy(!), hypermedia, security concerns for services, agile practices, gardening, coding standards and whisky. No one was groped or molested or talked down to. Oddly enough, at the drinks reception on the last night, I did have a woman approach me several times and try to invite herself back to my room (which I gently but firmly declined). Do I think all women at tech events are horn-dogs because of that? No, not for one minute.

For an excellent exploration of learning to be offended, see this article at NPR. The referenced article is coming at this topic from race rather than gender, but I think it resonates with many of the points I made.

 

Internet of Things

I am a little wary of the vague but hype-intensive discussions around the Internet of Things (IoT). I am particularly leery when I ask a pundit in the area ‘what *specifically* is IoT going to have the biggest impact on?’ The answer tends to meander along the path of ‘it will change everything’ and ‘there isn’t anything you can’t do with it’. Right. Sort of reminds me of the 90s-era hyperbolic proclamations about Object Oriented databases and how they were going to change everything. As one wag rightly summarized that hype: ‘Object oriented databases are a billion dollar market with no customers’.

SCADA, RFID, SNMP, RPC, etc – didn’t all of these come with the same set of snares and delusions that seems to surround the IoT piper? I fear the only thing that is different this time around is that IoT is paired with the equally rabid running mate ‘Big Data’ that is desperately trying to find a problem to solve and in so doing might encourage the accumulation of whatever data from IoT that it can take on.

 

Irrational Consumerism

Yes, it is that time of year, when people go shopping, because, well, they are supposed to shop. New York magazine has a great article that explores just how crazy this is Why Black Friday Is A Behavioral Economist’s Nightmare:

The big problem with Black Friday, from a behavioral economist’s perspective, is that every incentive a consumer could possibly have to participate — the promise of “doorbuster” deals on big-ticket items like TVs and computers, the opportunity to get all your holiday shopping done at once — is either largely illusory or outweighed by a disincentive on the other side. It’s a nationwide experiment in consumer irrationality, dressed up as a cheerful holiday add-on.

It then goes on to explore the retailing ‘tricks’ that are employed:

The doorbuster: The doorbuster is a big-ticket item (typically, a TV or other consumer electronics item) that retailers advertise at an extremely low cost. (At Best Buy this year, it’s this $179.99 Toshiba TV.) We call these things “loss-leaders,” but rarely are the items actually sold at a loss. More often, they’re sold at or slightly above cost in order to get you in the store, where you’ll buy more stuff that is priced at normal, high-margin levels.
That’s the retailer’s Black Friday secret: You never just buy the TV. You buy the gold-plated HDMI cables, the fancy wall-mount kit (with the installation fee), the expensive power strip, and the Xbox game that catches your eye across the aisle. And by the time you’re checking out, any gains you might have made on the TV itself have vanished.

Implied scarcity: This is when a store attempts to drum up interest in an item by claiming “limited quantity” or “maximum two per customer,” which makes us think we’re getting something valuable when we may not be. It’s a staple of deceptive marketing, and at no time in the calendar year is it in wider use than on Black Friday. (There is also actual scarcity on Black Friday — when stores carry only a 50 or 100 of an advertised doorbuster item — which also introduces a risk that you’ll be 51st or 101th in line and waste your time entirety. Both are bad.)

I spent Black Friday at home, with my family, working through my to-do list. Aside from lunch, we didn’t venture out to buy a thing.

 

What If We Reviewed Movies The Same Way We Review Tablets?

What if we reviewed movies that same way that we review tablets? That is, don’t rate them based on their own merits but always relative to some other popular movie, allow lots of subjective, unsupported assertions and conclude that popularity equals quality. So if we assume that Spiderman was the benchmark du jour, it might go something like this:

Avengers had quite a few popular characters in it, but the fatal flaw was that there was no Spiderman. However, everyone noted that many of the characters closely copied Spiderman in having an alternate identity, special powers and a snazzy costume, it was clear that these were to make the characters more like Spiderman, who is the leader in the super hero space. While the movie was entertaining, it just didn’t have the same flow and ‘ease of watching’ that Spiderman did. And while we paid less to see the Avengers at a matinee, the quality of Spiderman clearly made it worth the extra ticket expense because everyone knows that Spiderman is just a higher quality product. We are sure that the Avengers might appeal to some people; we still believe that Spiderman is the best movie there is.

 

Application Privacy Over-Reach

The amount of attempted privacy over-reach in mobile apps is approaching appalling. The number of mobile applications either out of the box or via subsequent updates that require the privilege to access (and in some cases upload) your contacts from your device is growing. In most cases it seems the same reason is given for this invasive action: it is for *your* convenience. Meh. It is unnecessary, plain and simple. Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, Linkedin, Path, Gowalla and others all do this – with or without your permission or knowledge. I mean, why would an application that is supposed to serve as a remote control for you TV need access to you contacts?

Second to the contacts grab is the gratuitous need to have fine grained location information for no apparent reason. For example, why would an application that identifies music need your fine location to work? What does that have to do with music recognition? It seems to be just collecting data for the sake of collecting it.

It is beginning to get even more obnoxious. Some web-based services are not allowing users to create their own username and passwords. Rather they try to force you to log in using your Twitter or Facebook accounts. And with few exceptions they require access to your contacts and other inappropriate information. Some applications (typically browser) are taking this approach. This is even more heinous as now not only do they have your contact information they have a record of every site you visit and every keystroke that you type into every site that you visit. Think about that before you run something like RockMelt.

Be aware of what permissions sites and applications ‘require’ and don’t be afraid to say no. After all, it is your data that is being given away. And once it is gone, chances are you’ll never get it back or get it deleted.