What Do You Mean When You Say You Are Training A Machine Learning Model?

I was sharing my latest Algorithmic Rotoscope image on Facebook and a friend asked me what I meant by training a machine learning model. I still suck at quantifying this stuff in any normal way. When you get too close to the fire you lose your words sometimes. It is why I try to step away and write stories about it--helps me find my words, and learn to use them in new and interesting ways.

Thankfully I have a partner in crime who understands this stuff and knows how to use her words. Audrey came up with the following explanation of what machine learning is in the context of my Algorithmic Rotoscope work:

"Machine learning" is a subset of AI in which a computer works at a problem programmatically without being explicitly programmed to do something specific. In this case, the Algorithmia folks have written a program that can identify certain characteristics in a piece of art -- color, texture, shadow, etc. This program can be used to construct a filter and that can be used in turn to alter another image. Kin is "training" new algorithms based on Algorithmia's machine learning work -- in order to build a new filter like this one based on Russian propaganda, the program analyzes that original piece of art -- the striking red, obviously. The computer does this thru machine learning rather than Kin specifying what it should "see."

I use my blog as a reference for my ideas and thoughts, and I didn't want to lose this one. I'm playing with machine learning so that I can better understand what it does, and what it doesn't do. It helps me to have good explanations of what I'm doing, so I can help turn other people on to the concept and help me make more sense (some of the time). We are going to have to develop an ability to have a conversation about the artificial intelligence and machine learning assault that has already begun. It will be important that we help others get up to speed and see through the smoke and mirrors.

When it comes to training algorithmic models using art, there isn't any machine learning going on. My model isn't learning art. When I execute the model against an image it isn't making art either. I am just training an algorithm to evaluate and remember an image, creating a model that can then be applied to other images--transferring the characteristics from one image to another algorithmically. In my work it is important for me to understand the moving parts, and how the algorithmic gears turn, so I can tell more truthful stories about what all of this is, and generate visuals that complement these stories I'm publishing.

Adopta.Agency In Trump Administration

Adopta.Agency is an ongoing project for me. I'm still using the template as a basis for some custom open data work, but I wanted to pause for a moment and think about what Adopta.Agency means to me in a Trump administration. The need for Adopta.Agency is greater than ever. We need an army of civic-minded individuals to step in and help be stewards of public data. The current administration does not see value in making government more transparent, something that will trickle down to all levels of government, making what we do much more difficult.

To be honest, after the election I hit a pretty big low, regarding what I should be doing with open data at the federal level. Now in February I feel little more optimistic and I wanted to set a handful of Adopta.Agency goals for myself, and think more about the project in the Trump Administration. In the next couple of months I want to:

  • Target Two Datasets - I want to target two datasets in coming months, liberate from their current position on government servers, download and convert to YAML format, and publish as an Adopta.Agency project on Github.
  • API Adoption - In addition to rescuing open data sets from disappearing, I want to enable the reuse of APIs. You can't always save or replace the entire API, but indexing and mapping what is there will help any future projects in the same area.
  • Storytelling - There has been a lot going on when it comes to rescuing government data in the last 60 days. Much of it has been centered around climate data -- I want to tell more stories of work going on beyond just Adopta.Agency.

The Trump administration doesn't change the Adopta.Agency mission and purpose at all, it just raises the stakes. I still view the federal government as a partner in this, we can't do the hard work of making government more observable without it's involvement. However, it is a much more hostile and unfriendly environment right now, making it even more urgent that we adopt existing data sets, and give new life in a safer place until the right partners in the public and private sector can be found.

It is easy to get overwhelmed by this work, I do often. I'm going to start with identifying two data sets, download the Adopta.Agency blueprint, and get to work liberating the data, and publishing it to Github. I find the process therapeutical and it helps me process what is going on right now--I hope you will join in. I look forward to hearing your story.

The Random Calls Home That An Application Makes From My Home

I have been running Charles Proxy locally for quite some time now. I began using it to reverse engineer the APIs behind some mobile applications and continued to use it to map out the APIs I'm depending on each day. I regularly turn on Charles Proxy and export the listing of any HTTP calls made while I'm working, every five minutes. These files get moved up into the cloud using Dropbox, where I have a regular CRON job processing each call made--profiling the domain, and details of the request and response for later review.

This process has shed some light on the application architecture of many of the tools and services I depend on. It's fascinating to see the number of pings home the average application will make when on, or running in the background. In addition to running Charles Proxy and understanding how these applications are communicating with their mothership, from within my home, I downloaded Little Flocker--providing me a peek at another layer of application architecture, and how they interact with my laptop.

Little Flocker tells me each time an application is writing or accessing a file, turning on my audio, video, and other items. After a day of running, I have been given another glimpse at the architecture of the apps I'm depending on. One example of suspicious application architecture is from Citrix. I haven't been on a call using the app in at least 4 days, and usually, I just uninstall the app after use, but it was interesting to see it trying to write files on a regular basis, even though I don't have the application open. Why do they need to do this? It looks like it is looking for any updates, but not sure why it needs to when I'm not running.

I wish applications would provide a list of the remove calls their applications make to the home base. I've talked with several platform providers about how they view this layer of their apps, and their thoughts about pulling back the curtain, and being more transparent about the APIs behind their apps--they usually aren't very interested in having these conversations with end-users and often see this activity as their proprietary secret sauce. The part that interests me is the fact that these client interactions, API calls, and data transmitted are happening here in my home on my laptop. I know that tech company see this as us users operating on their platforms, but in reality, they are entering our homes and making calls home to the platform using our Internet. 

Sure, we all agree to terms of service that make all of this legally irrelevant--they have their asses covered. It still doesn't change that many desktop, web and mobile application developers are exploiting the access they have in our lives. With the bad behavior we've seen from technology companies, government entities, and hackers in recent years, I feel like this level of access isn't sustainable or healthy. Especially when apps are either poorly architected, or are done so with a lack of respect for the end-user environment. This is my laptop, in my home, engaging in a personal or business relationship with your company, please be respectful of me, my space, and my privacy.

My Style Of Writing Gives Me A Single URL For My Thoughts

I was just having a conversation with a friend on a social network about test-driven development (TDD) and behavior-driven development (BDD), as we progressed through the conversation I used both my blogs kinlane.com and apievangelist.com as references for thoughts I've had on the subject, providing them with a single URL to get more information from me.

I shared URLs for 3-5 ideas/thoughts I've had on the subject, giving me a much better way to recall what I know and thoughts I've had -- from within my domain. I have 10 years of posts on kinlane.com, and I am approaching 7 years on apievangelist.com. This gives me a rich and efficient way to recall thoughts I've had, build on them, and quickly share and convey these thoughts to others using URLs--this is why I tell stories.

This process also drives people to my websites, hopefully building trust with them when it comes to my domains. When you want information on APIs, you go to apievangelist.com. When you want slightly deranged rants about technology that may or may not make sense, you go to kinlane.com. I'm working on improved tagging across my content, something that ultimately is a manual thing, as nobody knows the content of my work like I do--not even the AIs and machine learningz.

I do not obsess over SEO for my websites. The natural progression of my research, and focus on helping people understand the world of APIs, lends itself nicely to having a wealth of links, and interconnected stories about a wide range of topics I am passionate about--which translates to some healthy organically generated SEO. Talking through this stuff helps me execute on this all in a more consistent way--the more I write, the ideas I have, and the more URLs I have to share. Which makes all of this go round for me, and hopefully you along the way.

My House Is Infested With IoTs

We were just having a conversation about the information our Sonos is sending back and forth. One of a handful of devices we've willfully purchased and plugged into our home network. In today's environment, we are becoming hyper aware of what our applications and devices know about us and are communicating outside of our network, and local storage. 

With two people in a small home/office environment, we have 4 iPhones, 2 iPads, 3 laptops, 1 desktop, 1 printer, 2 Sonos speakers, 1-time capsule, and 1 smart tv connected all the time. We also have 3 video cameras and 3 drones that can connect to the network and/or broadcast a network, but isn't necessarily always on. We aren't huge home IoT people, but that seems like a significant number of devices for a single network and quite a lot to think about when it comes to managing our digital bits.

Our house is infested with IoTs. Ok, it's mostly because of my drone and camera obsession, but the printer, Sonos, and other devices are definitely a little more on the normal side of things. When you stop to think about all this IoT think stuff for a bit, it's pretty crazy what have let into our world. These little devices that run on our home network, do things for us, regularly talking back to their masters in the cloud. What do they say about us? What information do they keep track of? 

I fully understand my obsession with our data at this level is considerably greater than the average person, but I am astounded at people's inability to stop corporations (and government) from infiltrating our homes in this way. I'm not immune. I have the usual suspects when it comes to home devices, as well as some more specialized IoT devices on my network. I am tuning into which devices I have, and what data they are sending to the cloud because I'm concerned with capturing the data exhaust from my world and making a living, but secondarily I am increasingly concerned about privacy, security, and other more concerning activity from these devices I've invited into my home, and the companies who operate them.

My smart TV tracks my viewing habits, my Sono tracks my listening habits, and my laptop, tablet, and mobile device track the rest. Some of these devices are fixed in my home, while other more portable devices travel with me, and then come back home to get plugged in, recharged, and synced with the cloud. I'm using my drones and video cameras to gather data, images, and audio from the world around me, and bringing them back to my home for filtering and organization locally and in the cloud. My house isn't just infested with IoT devices, it's infested with the data and other bits generated by these IoT devices. These are valuable little bits and they are something companies are scrambling to get their hands on.

I'm on a quest to make sure I get a piece of the action when it comes to selling my bits--the bigger piece of the pie, the better. I'm also looking to help drive the conversation around what the technology companies are doing with our bits. I do not expect to win this war, I'm just looking to push back wherever and whenever I can, and establish a greater understanding around what data is being generated and tracked, both inside and outside of my home. The more I'm in tune with this activity, the more I can develop and evolve the tactics I will need to keep resisting and stay ahead of the curve.

Can You See The Algorithm?

Can you see an algorithm? Algorithms are behind many common analog and digital actions we execute daily. Can you see what is going on behind each task? Can you observe what is going on? To use an antiquated analogy, can you take the back off your watch? An example of this is our world right now would be the #immigration debate -- whether you are viewing on Twitter, Facebook, or any other source of news and discussion around the immigration debate. Can you see the algorithm that powers the Twitter or Facebook's #immigration feed?

Algorithms that drive the web are often purposefully opaque, unobservable, yet they are still right behind the curtain of your browser, UI, and social media content card. They are supposed to be magic. You aren't supposed to be able to see the magic behind. The closest we can get to seeing an algorithm is via their APIs which (might) give us access to an algorithms inputs and outputs, hopefully making it more observable. APIs do not guarantee that you can fully understand what an API or the algorithm behind does, but it does give us an awareness and working examples of the inputs and outputs--falling just short of being able to actually see anything. 

You can develop visualizations, workflow diagrams, images, and other visuals to help us see reflections of what an algorithm does using its API (if it's available), but if we don't have a complete picture of the surface area of an algorithm, or of all its parameters and other inputs, we will only paint a partial picture of an algorithm. I'm super fascinated with not just trying to find different ways of seeing an algorithm, I also want some dead simple ways to offer up a shared meaning of what your eyes are seeing, and make an immediate impact. 

How do I distil down the algorithm behind the #immigration debate hashtag on Twitter and Facebook in a single image? I don't think you can. There are many different ways to interpret the meaning of the data I can pull from the Twitter and Facebook APIs. Which users are part of the conversation? Which users are bots? What is being said, and what is the sentiment? There are many different ways I can extract meaning from this data, but ultimately it is still up to me, the human to process, and distil down into a single meaningful image that will speak to other humans. Even though the image could be worth 1000 words, which thousand words would that be?

I blog as the API Evangelist to polish my API stories. I write code to polish how I can use APIs to tell better stories. I take photos in the real world so that I can tell better stories online and in print. I'm trying to leverage all of this to help me better tell stories about how algorithms pulling the strings in our world, and help everyone see algorithms. Sadly, I do not think we will ever precisely see an algorithm, but we can develop ways of refracting light through them helping us see the moving parts, or sometimes, more importantly, see what parts are missing. 

One of the things I'm working on with my algorithmic storytelling is developing machine learning filters that help me shine a light on the different layers, and gears of an algorithm. I do not think we can use the master's tools to dismantle the house, but I don't want to dismantle the house, I just want to install a gorgeous floor to the ceiling window that spans one side of the house, and maybe a couple of extra windows. I want reliable and complete access to the inputs and outputs of an algorithm so that I can experiment with a variety of ways to see what is going on, painting a picture that might help us have a conversation about what an algorithm does, or does not do.

I recently took a World War 2 Nazi propaganda poster and trained a machine learning model using it, and then applied the filter to a picture of the waiting room at Ellis Island waiting room. When looking at the picture you are seeing the waiting room where millions of immigrants have waited for access to the United Sates, but the textures and colors you are seeing when you look at the image are filtered through machine learning interpretation of the World War 2 Nazi poster. When you look at the image you may never know the filter is being applied--it is just the immigration debate. However, what you are being fed algorithmically is being painted by a very loud, bot-driven, hateful and false content fueled color and texture pallette.

Granted, I chose the subject matter that went into the machine learning algorithm, but this was intentional. Much like the handful of techies who developed and operate bots, meme, alternative news and fact engines, I was biased in how I was influencing the algorithm that is being applied. However, if you don't know the story behind, and don't understand the inputs and outputs of what is happening, you think you are looking at just a photo of Ellis Island. By giving you awareness and more of an understanding of the inputs, a regular photo of Ellis island, the filter being trained using a World War 2 Nazi poster, plus I added some machine learning voodoo and wizardry--poof we helped shine a light on one layer of the algorithm, exposing just a handful of the potentially thousands or millions of gears that are driving the algorithms coloring the immigration debate.

I am sure folks will point out what they see as the negativity in this story. If you are denying the influence of white nationalists on this election, and specifically how this was done algorithmically--you are experiencing a dangerous form of denial. This story is not meant to paint a complete picture, but shine line on a single layer in a way that helps people understand a little more about what is happening behind the immigration debate online. It's just one of many exercises I'm conducting to assist me in telling more stories and create compelling images that help folks better understand and see algorithms.

A Little Bit of Optimism About Technology In Federal Government

I met with a handful of friends who are (still) working in the federal government about how they are doing this last week. The tone within federal government seems to be on par with what I'm hearing from the outside -- people are seriously concerned about a wide range of things, and fearful for what this administration might do. I only talked to a few friends, but they were in positions that expose them to a wide variety of agencies, as well as projects, and the concern is pretty widely shared across agencies.

There are a number of folks who have already left, and folks seem to be taking things on a day by day, week by week, and project by project basis--before they decide to speak up or possible leave their job altogether. From what I've gathered people are being very vocal, and the incoming administration is very aware of the concerns from technical teams. This makes me optimistic, hearing that some of the folks I know are staying, as they are some of the smartest, and most opinionated individuals I know. They aren't about to take any shit and are ready for a fight when it comes to what is truly important.

What also gives me hope is that from what I'm hearing, the current White House administration is not very tech savvy, and they know it. Sure, they had (have?) the assistance for companies like Cambridge Analytica, and advisors like Peter Thiel, but the core administration isn't that savvy. They also seem to be somewhat aware of the scope of the Federal Government, and the technical complexity. Sure, there are many ways that government bureaucracy can be made more efficient, but in the end, people need to get their checks, benefits, and many US companies depend on these gears turning. They need some of the smart folks high up at these agencies to help make sure things don't just fall apart -- you need the gears turning until you identify an alternate solution (hopefully).

The 26% of Americans that vote for Donald Trump, and continue to support his approach do not seem to truly understand the scope and scale of the federal government--it is just big. Similar to the confusion between the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Obamacare, there are many other programs and services that people depend on, and if these stop operating, congress people and senators are going to start hearing from their constituents, who are going to hold them accountable in the next election (education, cough cough). I'm optimistic that within the cracks of the technical incompetence of the current administration, and the existing bureaucracy that is the federal government, good things might occur.

Many of the people I know at the White House, GSA, and other agencies are there to serve the American people. They are there to push back on the inefficiencies that exist within government. The people I know are some very smart folks who don't just see the federal government as a republican or democrat thing, they see it as a system that serves the people--one that needs constant refinement. Yes, it is a very complex, and sometimes inefficient system, but they are ALREADY doing the hard work it takes to understand this complexity and working to be honest and realistic about what the solution is to streamline the service(s), so that they better serve everyone. 

It really hit me hard that some of my friends and family were chanting "drain the swamp" during and after the election. While this phrase has other historical baggage (you should understand), Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich explained that this was about targeting the liberals in government. They were talking about many of the smart people I know in the federal government--making this a very personal attack for me. Those are my friends, and people that I know are decent folks trying to serve the entire country. It gives me some renewed strength to know that it will be these sample people, who are still in government, are actively resistant, and working hard to identify the positive thing they can accomplish in the cracks.

I am thankful that these folks have the fortitude to do what I can't. I am thankful that they are continuing to do what matters. I want all of them to know that I am here to support them however I can -- just let me know. And please...make sure at take care of yourself, and be safe.

Fearing Technology Over Those Who Control It

Stories of whether or not we should fear losing our jobs to robots have been going on for a long time. Another layer of this I'm seeing expand lately is whether we should be fearing machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). I am always fascinated to hear the reasons people fear technology as well as the reasons people give regarding why you should not fear technology.

One aspect of this back and forth that fascinates me is why nobody talks about fearing the people behind the technology, while also continuing to worship the ground that people like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk walk on. There is no reason to fear technology. There are many, many reasons for fearing the people that are developing and have control over technology. It all just seems like such a con game being played by those in power. Kind of like the stock market where you can play the ups and downs of the market.

Robots are scary, and they are coming for your jobs -- do you mean corporate leaders are greedy and want to pay you as little as possible, or just replace you if they can. Artificial Intelligence can do evil things and will become smarter than you -- do you mean the white engineers behind these things either straight up do evil, or are greedy fuckers and will allow really evil things to be done as long as they keep getting rich? When I see each story come across my monitoring dashboard I can't help but think about the reasons behind -- for and against.

Technology isn't good, nor bad, nor neutral -- it just is a tool. The people who have control of the technology are good, bad, or neutral. Neutral oftentimes winds up being pretty fucking bad when you are a privileged white dude with a lot of money, and unwilling to understand the shady shit people are doing with your genius invention. These stories about fearing or not fearing technology seems like some shady Trump administration tactic to just distract us while they pull all the real strings that end up screw all of us over, and make those in power richer.

Algorithmic Reflections On The Immigration Debate

We are increasingly looking through an algorithmic lens when it comes to politics in our everyday lives. I spend a significant portion of my days trying to understand how algorithms are being used to shift how we view and discuss politics. One of the ongoing themes in my research is focused on machine learning, which is an aspect of technology currently being applied to news curation, identifying fake news, all the way to how we monitor and see the world online with images and video. 

Algorithms are painting a real-time picture that colors how we see the physical world around us--something that is increasingly occurring online for many of us. Because many of the creators of algorithms are white men, they often are blind and even willfully ignorant of how their algorithms and technological tools are used for evil purposes. With a focus on revenue and the interests of their investors, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and other platforms often do not see (or are willing to turn a blind eye to) how hateful groups are using their platforms to spread misinformation and hate. When you combine this with a lack of awareness when it comes history, we end up in the current situation we find ourselves in with the Trump administration.

As part of my work to understand how algorithms are shaping our world views I am playing with different ways of applying machine learning to my images and videos for use across my storytelling -- I am calling @algorotoscope. It's helping me understand how machine learning works (or not), while also giving me an artistic distraction from the increasingly inhuman world of technology. Taking photos and videos, as well as the process of training and applying the filters gives me relief, allowing me to find some balance in the very toxic digital environment I find myself in today.

I feel that we are allowing algorithms to amplify some very hateful views of the world right now, something that is being leveraged to produce some very damaging outcomes in the immigration debate. To help paint a picture of what I'm seeing from my vantage point, I took an old World War II nazi propaganda poster and used it to train a machine learning model, which I could then apply to any image or video using a platform called Algorithmia. Here is the resulting image....

The image is a photo I took from the waiting area at Ellis Island, with sunlight reflecting through the windows, lighting up the tiles in the room where millions of immigrants waiting to be admitted into this country. I feel like we are allowing our willful ignorance of history as Americans to paint the immigration debate today, something that is being accelerated and fueled by a small hateful portion of our society, with the assistance of algorithms. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other platforms are allowing their algorithms to be gamed by this very vocal minority in a way that is shaping the views of the larger population--making for a very destructive and divisive debate about something very core to our country's origin -- immigration.

If we are going to get to the bottom of this recent shift in how we operate as a society, we are going to have to work to shine a light on how these algorithms are operating, and how advertising is incentivizing platforms to be blind to their damaging effects. We are allowing algorithms and digital technology to reflect and amplify the worst within us and pushing us to be more polarized. I'm hoping to continue stimulating a more constructive conversation about how technology is being deployed, one that is NOT fueled by greed or hate, through my storytelling, programming, and imagery.

The Digital Things That Happen In The Privacy Of Our Homes

I'm always trying to unpack and understand the digital world unfolding around us. Understanding where the physical world is colliding with the digital world is increasingly difficult to see, let alone articulate to average people (this is why I tell stories, so I get better at it). One aspect of this collision that regularly leaves me baffled are the views on security and privacy when it comes to things that happen "online", but in the physical world, these "digital" things are actually happening "physically" in our private spaces.

Where is the line between "the cloud" and "my living room". Startups would argue what I do on their "cloud platform" exists because of them, and per their terms of service we are giving them an unlimited license to everything I do in "their domain". They aren't even willing to consider the fact that this is physically happening in my living room, regardless of where the data centers and servers are located to support an application. Where is the line between our physical and digital world? When I close my eyes and try to visualize this, the "cloud" seems pretty fucking invasive and existing in my living room and the bedrooms in my house--with very little respect from startups and the government that we've allowed you to come into our homes.

What really kills me is that the average citizen is completely unaware that they have invited companies, government agencies, hackers, and many other rando-developer into their homes. Not just on the websites and apps we use on our laptops and mobile devices. We are now doing this in our appliances, thermostats, security cameras, automobiles, etc. Each device we connect to our home wifi opens up a doorway for companies, government, and individuals to come into our home and gather information, and build awareness about our everyday life.

Few people seem overly concerned with this evolution, and startups are happy to keep them in the dark, allowing them to vacuum up data, and sell to other brokers, and on Wall Street. I just cannot reconcile the appetite for access to our bits, as they exist in our homes, and the lack of awareness amongst the average consumer. I remember when the Internet first started taking a hold on the world and how concerned folks were with their address being online, and cookies--now they seem perfectly happy to give up their longitude and latitude every second of the day, as well as share their most intimate thoughts and activities, in exchange for a little bit of convenience and "artificial intelligence".

The attitude of startups about where the line between our digital and physical worlds disturbs me, but what really worries me is the amount of work we have ahead of us when it comes to the ownership of these private bits. This will be one our biggest challenge in coming years.

Startups New Revenue Stream Selling Your Data To Hedge Funds

I am always fascinated by how people see data or don't see data. Startups are definitely seeing it right now, but the average citizen seems unable to see it, care about it, let alone understand that it is actually their private data. I was reading this post about startups selling their data to hedge funds, and once again left amazed at how startups just see end users as livestock, and are a commodity for buying and selling.

I'm stunned that at the same time we are also having conversations about a segment of our population being "left behind", while in the same motion we are willfully blind to startups buying and selling our own private details like we are cattle. This is one of the reasons the tech community is so willing to ignore the bad behavior going on with what has become to be known as the surveillance economy, because there is so much money to be made by a few, harvesting and selling the data of the rest of us.

The actually number of people looking to do harm through the use of technology is fairly small, but the number of people willing to look the other way, and be compolicit in the surveillance economy is actually pretty large. If there is a buck to be made surveilling people, gathering every bit of data about them, there are endless entpresenuers willing to line up and do the work. These entrepeneurs rarely question the motives of what their buyers will do with data, or are willing to ackownledge how their technology can be used for evil, if there is money to be made at any point in the game.

The dehumanizing effects of technology, combined with the greed and blindness of capitalism leaves me worried about the future. The social bubbles we experienced in the election are just the tip of the iceberg. We will see more of these bubbles emerge, with people happy to particpate, as well as companies who are willing to exploit, and manipulate as long as they get a piece of the action when it comes to selling the data. All of this makes me sad when you consider what is contained withint this data--our most intimate thoughts, locations, images, video, and other personal and private items that are just being sold to the highest bidder on the open market.

Why I Am Not Good At Business And Politics

I have had enough businesses, and business dealings to understand the realities of the game, and with almost 30 years of experience under my belt, I have come to realize I am not good at business or politics. This is why I run a single person business, under an LLC umbrella with my partner in crime Audrey Watters (@audreywatters). She does Hack Education, and I do API Evangelist, and the overlap of the two is Tech Gypsies--no investment, or other partners necessary. We just do what we do best, and nothing more--no scaling necessary.

What It Takes To Be Successful At Business
Business people love to shine a light on the classic American dream version of starting a business. You work hard, build a good product, offer a good service, and you can be successful. What they neglect to tell you is how cutthroat you have to be, how many lawyers you will need to be, and willing to screw over your partners, investors, customers, and anyone who gets in your path along the way. Now I am not saying all successful business are like this, but I am saying that increasingly the real successful ones have to operate in this manner because, "if you don't, someone else will" (or so they tell me). I just do not have this in my blood, and I would rather have a small business that never scales, will pay my bills, and keep my soul intact.

What It Takes To Be Successful in Politics
Similar to business, politics is a cutthroat and shady world. Something I think some democrats can do well, but this election has shown how republicans have a much larger appetite for the shady shit, and willing to obtain power at all costs. They are willing to gerrymander, ally with the enemy, screw of the average citizen, and even people with disabilities--whatever it takes to get the reigns of power. Most of this I see on TV and in the papers but have had the chance to see close up a couple of times working in DC, I just do not have the stomach for this. It's not that I'm not tough, and can't handle a challenge, it is that I actually have an ethical core, and like feeling good about myself when I go to sleep at night.

Stick With Just Being a Monkey Wrench
This is why I will just stick with what I do best, being a monkey wrench in the business and political goings-on around the country. Many of my friends have decided to take a different path. They want to make money and use it to make the change, or maybe join government or work within companies, and make the change that way--that is fine. This is my path. I will continue to be a Tech Gypsy, live in the cracks, and throw myself against the machine, being a monkey wrench in the operations of the businesses and government agencies who are working against the American people. I am not cut out for business and politics--I wish to keep my soul intact.

The Archiving Of Social Media For The Obama Administration

I'm thinking a lot about my bits lately, and the legacy of my work in a digital environment. As I'm working and writing on this topic, an email came through my inbox from the White House on the archive work they've done with the President's social media. I thought their approach was worth sharing as what I'd consider to be an archival and reclaim lesson when it comes to our digital bits and a positive approach to preserving the legacy of our digital work.

WhiteHouse.gov becomes ObamaWhiteHouse.gov
The Obama White House website – which includes press articles, blog posts, videos, and photos – will be available at ObamaWhiteHouse.gov, a site maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), beginning on January 20, 2017. If you are looking for a post or page on the Obama administration’s WhiteHouse.gov from 2009 through 2017, you can find it by changing the URL to ObamaWhiteHouse.gov. For example, after the transition, this blog post will be available at ObamaWhiteHouse.gov/obama-administration-digital-transition-moving-forward.

President Obama, Vice President Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Dr. Biden

Archived content posted to these social media accounts during the Obama administration will be maintained by NARA at the following handles:

White House Social Media

Archived content posted to institutional White House social media accounts during the Obama administration will be maintained by NARA at the following handles:

Some other content you may be looking for can be found here: 

This is a static archive index of our 44th President that because each of the channels also has an API (except Medium), this index can act as an engine for research and storytelling on the 44th presidency, and possible a backdrop for current, and future presidencies. Using these platform APIs you can easily pull photos, quotes, video, and other valuable snippets from this period in time. This approach to archiving will play a significant role in how the history books are written (or rewritten).

I'm considering how I can create a new type of APIs.json index that can be used in this approach, providing a machine readable index to not just the Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Instagram, and Youtube APIs, but also provide a reference to all of the accounts present in an archive. I'm looking to further quantify the dimensions of this approach to archiving, by having a machine-readable definition of the APIs, the accounts, as well as the data, and content contained within each archive. I want to be able to feed a single APIs.json file into a tool, and have it spit out a complete Github archive of everything represented by an archival index.

It Is Always Sad When I Click On Your Dormant Or Dead Domain

I spend a lot of time looking through the tweets I've favorited, curated, and retweeted, digging deeper into the digital presence of the people and companies behind them. This is how I expand my LinkedIn, Github, Twitter, and other networks, as well as establish a better understanding the people who are moving things forward in the API space.

When I click on the profile of someone doing interesting things with APIs, and I see their personal domain as part of their profile, I always click on it. Nothing makes more sad for the future of tech than when these domains are gone, dormant and horribly out of date. It means this person is doing interesting things for a company but is not capturing any of the exhaust from this work for themselves--even just the occasional story on their blog.

Nothing sucks your time and value than having a job. The emptiest portions of my CV's are when I've had jobs. I'm not bashing having a job, I'm just bashing where the bar currently is for employers when it comes to stimulating the creativity, and ownership of ideas among their workers. Even if it is just a little restriction in place on blogging and tweeting, and a fear of saying something you are not supposed too, this will restrict and limits someone's creativity, and will always come back to hurt an employer in the long run.

I'm sure there are many reasons why someone stops blogging and creating within their own domain while working for a company, organization, institution, or government agency, but the majority of the reasons I am sure will leave me pretty sad at the state of creativity in the tech space. I really enjoy the thoughts from folks in the space that flow around their own ideas, and their views on technology, without the influence of who they work for and the products and services they build daily. These are the ideas I think enrich the world of APIs more than any single corporate blog or PR channel--wish they were encourage more, and not killed.

Domain Literacy: When A Trustworthy Domain Goes Bad

I have a side project going on right now where I'm working to define what I'm calling Domain Literacy. I am looking to take my knowledge of the web and APIs and help folks better understand some of the digital currents they are swept up in online each day. Whether its Silicon Valley hype, fake news, politics, or cybersecurity, APIs are being used to track, analyze, and influence people around the world.

My objective is to just help folks understand a little bit more about the dangers of consuming information online, and that there are many different domains you can operate within, as well as owning your own domain. I want folks to understand the motivations behind some popular domains like facebook.com, and twitter.com. I also want to help them discover which domains they can go to and find domain experts when it comes to security, privacy, and other areas of technology where they might need some assistance and education.

I want to help people understand that the web is always shifting, evolving, and sometimes this happens very quickly within startup culture but isn't limited to just the business arena. There are many factors that contribute to a domain being trustworthy or not, something that can change quickly. An example of this recently is whitehouse.gov, who has recently removed reliable information on climate change, LGBTQ rights, Spanish language, information for people with disabilities, and other important areas.

I am not saying everything published to whitehouse.gov will be inaccurate from here forward, or that everything was removed maliciously. I am just saying their track record on telling the truth isn't very good so far, and when using whitehouse.gov we should be skeptical about the content and data provided. We should be employing a healthy amount of skepticism anywhere on the web, and knowing which domain you are operating within, and some awareness of the trustworthiness and safety of a domain is important. You should know where you are entering your social security and credit card numbers, but you should also be aware of the quality of information you are consuming online, and who is pulling the strings.

I do not expect that you understand the technical underpinnings of the web, just possess a little awareness about the domain you are operating in within your browser, and the apps you install on your mobile phone. A little domain awareness and an understanding of who is behind a domain can go a long way towards helping improve our privacy, online security, and the quality of news and information we digest on a daily basis--something that can really impact how we see the world around us.

Honesty In API Startup Land

I take flack from folks when I write posts like I did last week about Oracle acquiring Apiary. I can't help be blunt about these fabricated realities that many folks claim to be "inevitable". Why would I not congratulate Apiary? I explained--I'm not dealing in Silicon Valley currency, I'm just a vocal spectator, and acquisitions don't make me happy. People also like to tell me that not all startups are bad, and not all big companies are bad, and not all founders are greedy. True, but do you ever stop and ask yourself why you feel compelled to speak out when these things are true about a signification portion of the space?

Sure it is the natural course of everything, right? Startups get created, then they get acquired--it's just business. Ok. So if these things are inevitable, and just the way things are done, why aren't they included in the marketing and the origin story that you tell your customers from day one? You know, "Hey we have this great new service that you should use, but we want you to know that at some point we are selling this thing and making a bunch of money (or not), and your whole world will be disrupted when our service goes away (or not)". It is because we are not being honest with people, forcing me to be the asshole who talks about it after the fact.

So what is actually inevitable? That all startups will eventually go away, and companies are bought and sold or is it that business people are inevitably dishonest? I'm not asking for much. I just want us all to make sure there are good APIs, with a robust set of data portability and integration tooling, so that small business owners like me can reliably depend on services, without their world being disrupted every time one of you hit your big payday. Also, maybe we could have just a little more honesty and less hype along the way. I just don't understand why I'm the delusional person who is living in another world when y'all are the ones playing these games.

All I'm asking for is: 1) Data Portability 2) Complete API Stack 3) Integration / Syncing / Migration Tooling, and a little bit more honesty about change and what the future holds--then you can do your startups, sell them, and play this game in a way that won't create fatigue across the sector. I think entrepreneurs underestimate the damage that this will do to the average business consumer's appetite for adopting new services--something that will hurt everyone.

Oh, while I'm ranting, you should consider being more honest about change in your API operations with hypermedia. ;-)

What Tracks Do You Leave When It Comes To Virtualization In Cloud?

I spend a lot of time thinking about how technology can be used for good, and for bad. I feel pretty strongly that many technologists do not think deeply about the alternative ways in which their technology can be used, for both good and evil. This is one of the big challenges in the world of APIs, how do you encourage companies to open up their resources, knowing they may not fully understand what they are doing. It may be something that stimulates innovation, but it may also be something that gets abused.

One of the ways I push my understanding of technology is through my process of design fiction, where I write stories that push realities on my alternate Kin Lane blog, and similar stories from the world of APIs on alternate API Evangelist. A topic I'm pushing forward in this areas centers around how do law enforcement or the "good guys" conduct forensic analysis on mobile devices, as well as via laptops, desktops, and servers they obtain custody of--inversely I'm trying to understand how hackers or the "bad guys" cover their tracks. I prefer talking about this stuff out in the open so that others can learn from, whether it is for good, or for bad--I believe the good from being transparent outweighs the bad in many scenarios (not all). 

When it comes to recovering data from laptop, desktop, and server hard drives, practices for recovering data, as well as covering your tracks, are pretty proven. When it comes to doing this on mobile phones there is still much being figured out when it comes to reliability getting into mobile devices, as well as a whole lot of discussion around what is currently possible, and being used by law enforcement, banks, and other corporate and government entities. We are seeing regular trickles of information emerging about what technology and services are available out there to help get at people's information stored on mobile phones--a discussion that needs to be further brought out in the open.

In my style, I am thinking about the future of how information is protected, and how the surveillance machine is getting at information. I'm focusing on virtualization, and like the unallocated space on a hard drive, how long does information stick around in virtualized environments. Increasingly we are storing information on virtualized storage instances, and running applications and desktops in virtualized environments. What does data storage, and recovery look like in these environments? I regularly fire up 20-30 virtual servers, along with virtual storage drives to process jobs, harvest and crunch data, then delete them when I am done. What happens to all this data? What is retrievable? I am not just talking about for my recovery needs, I'm talking about in law enforcement scenarios. 

I'm not looking to do anything illegal--not my style. I'm looking to understand this so I can be ahead of the curve in poking, prodding, and stimulating the conversation about how we keep our bits private, as well as understand what the police and surveillance apparatus is up to. I am not team terrorist or criminal, but I am team anti-surveillance. I am a strong believer that if we can have an honest conversation about this out in the open, and better understand what is possible that we can sensibly mitigate criminal activity while also protecting the privacy of citizens and businesses. I'm just getting going thinking about this, talking with experts in my circle, and learning more. I will keep exploring both in reality here on my blog, as well as on my alternative blogs, and see where this all goes.

If you have any expertise or opinions in this area, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

That Feeling You Get When You Say Something Critical

Have you ever spoken up critically on the Internet about a company? I'm not talking about the random gripe with a brand when it comes to their products or services, I am talking about taking a direct shot at the ethics of a company. You know that feeling you get when you do this, where your mind starts going through the possible repercussions: Will this impact my job? Will this impact me getting future contracts? Maybe people won't return my calls now? Will I be sued? On and on....

While this is definitely a REAL problem, I can't help but feel that in 80% of these situations it is more about self-policing, then it is about real repercussions. This is the beauty of how this works in business. Something I've seen play out in government, higher education institutions, the enterprise, and in the startup space when it comes to VC investment. If you ever want VC money, you better not bad mouth venture capital, or any individual VCs! I get a number of backchannel DM's and emails from folks telling me I'm brave for saying something, or asking if I have concerns about repercussions.

I deeply consider the impacts of anything I say and write online, whether it is public or not. However, I do not self-police myself for a fear of those in power (at any level). While I do worry about where my next paycheck will come from, I'm not concerned with calling out companies I work with, or would potentially depend on for a paycheck. If a company can't take constructive criticism from me and truly get to know who I am and what I represent, then  I do not want to take money from them. It is just how I operate, something that keeps me confident in myself, my business, and what I do for a living and to make my impact on the world.

This type of self-policing and intimidation is how power works. I'm putting this out there because I feel like the precedent has been set by Trump and his followers, that they will come after you legally--if you speak up. Something I think some businesses will emulate. While I do consider these repercussions throughout my work, I'm not going to let it disrupt what I do because this is how power works. If we are going to manifest the world we want, we have to speak truth to power, otherwise, we've created our own jail cells, and put ourselves into them, giving up on ever making a meaningful impact on the world around us.

When The Companies Who Have All Your Digital Bits Promise Not To Recreate You

I'm thinking about my digital bits a lot lately. Thinking about the digital bits that I create, the bits I generate automatically, the bits I own, the bits I do not own, and how I can make a living with just a handful of my bits. I have an inbox full of people who want me to put my bits on their websites, and people who want to put their bits on my platform so that they are associated with my brand, increasing the value of their bits. I know people think I'm crazy (I am) when I talk so much about my bits in this way, but it is a just response to my front-row seat watching companies getting pretty wealthy off all of our bits. #BlueManGroup

Obviously, this is not a new phenomenon, and we've heard stories about Prince, John Fogerty, and George Clinton fighting for the funk and ownership of their musical bits, something artists of all types have had to battle on all fronts, throughout their careers. Lately, I have I have found myself sucked in listening to stories from Carrie Fisher in her documentaries, better understanding her struggles to maintain a voice in the merchandising, representation and control over her likeness, and her most famous role--Princess Leia. <3

Carrie Fisher made Prince Leia the icon she is today. However, she did it on the LucasFilm platform. How much does LucasFilm own, and how much does Carrie Fisher own? How dependent are they on her, and how dependent is she on them. Something that has been intensely worked out between lawyers since the 1970's. Now that she has passed, I'm sure her estate will continue to take on LucasFilm on this front, but the company has so many of her video, audio, and images (her bits), that they can possibly recreate her for future movies if they desired.

As I'm thinking about my own bits, and the control, or lack of control I have over these this week, I'm also reading that Lucasfilm released a statement that:

We want to assure our fans that Lucasfilm has no plans to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher’s performance as Princess or General Leia Organa.

Remember the Tupac and Michael Jackson holograms? The precedent for digitally recreate all of or the parts of pieces (bits) of a human is out there. Let me stop here. I'm not talking about anything remotely in realm of the singularity, I'm simply talking about what is possible with existing technology using video, audio, images, and text content generated from or containing the fingerprint of a certain human being (me). I know that some geeks love to masturbate to this shit, but I'm just talking about some of you delusion mother-fuckers realizing there is a lot of money to be off of someone else's hard work, or even just their human existence. #Exploitatification

The platformification of everything is all about getting people to come do shit on your platform, and making money doing this--I just happen to study this stuff for a living and possess a borderline unhealthy obsession on the subject (#help). Carrie Fisher had to learn the hard way how to fight for what is hers, back when she was a young adult, something that continued throughout her life. With advances in technology this battle has evolved, morphed, and changed, with the greatest amount of control and power always existing in the hands of the platform (Lucasfilm) operator, who has the most lawyers. 

if you publish anything on the web regularly you know that there are folks who immediately copy your shit and post elsewhere, trying to generate ad revenue--this is the lowest level of things out there. At the higher levels, we have Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, and others who want all your bits in their walled garden, where they can measure, track and run your bits through their "machine learning" and "artificial intelligence" algorithms (go Evernote). Where they obtain a license and control over your videos, images, audio and other objects. Where their machine learning can learn to write like you, understand your behavior, where you go, what you like to buy, where you eat, and what you like to read and watch, think, and write in your journal.

At what point can Facebook or Google launch an API channel that behaves just like what I perform as the API Evangelist. At what point can Amazon understand which algorithms are getting the most use, the most traction, and awareness, and access to the most data and content, and recreate all of this for themselves, within their domain, presented as the latest AWS offering. You know why platform operators are afraid of folks stealing their AI through APIs? Because it is the reverse of their business model, training their algorithms using your bits, and providing a plantation for developers to tend to, cultivate, and grow the best crops. 

Thankfully I am a human being, and no amount of AI, machine learning, and algorithms will ever replace me, and what I do, but it doesn't mean that there won't be endless corporations willing to step up and exploit, profit from my existence as said human being. As I struggle to understand my digital self, and make ends meet for my physical self, I just had to take pause, and point out that a corporation just promised to a bunch of human beings that they would not be digitally recreating another beloved human being, simply so they could profit from the hard work she did as a living human being. It leaves me wondering if Lucasfilm will always have this attitude, and whether or not other companies like Facebook and Oculus Rift will have similar ethical stances, and not use all of us in their social and VR bubbles productions.

The Power Of The Web Domain

Domain literacy is one of my new causes in 2017. We'll see how successful I am convincing people of what domain literacy is, what the benefits are, and the power of the domain at this point in time. Web domains like Twitter.com and Facebook.com are influencing the world in ways we haven't even imagined. 

Think about the power wielded by Twitter and Facebook right now. The collective energy they wield to shift markets, influence opinion, and change how the world works. Or, do they? They only do because we operate within their domain. We go to Twitter or Facebook.com, and have them in our pockets via mobile applications. We give them this power. What if we chose not to? What if we did not use Twitter.com or Facebook.com? 

With each message, image, video, and like we've incrementally given power to these domains, and in turn given power to those who have figured out how to dominate within these domains through the replication, automation, and application of their ideology. We tend to mistake this for some Internet-enabled democracy, where in reality those with the know-how, and compute power can out-blast, troll, and silence those who do not. 

I'm fascinated by the power we've given to these web domains in just a decade. How much they've captured our attention, and how we've accepted them as the way things are, and something that is inevitable. While I do not think we can fully escape the powerful effects of these domains, I do think that we can maintain our own domains, frequent and support domains that we trust and believe in, and minimize the power we bestow to some of the domains that are destabilizing our world right now.

Some Benefits Of Basic Domain Literacy

Further evolving what I mean when I mean when I say "domain literacy", and wanted to brush up on the benefits of domain literacy are, which is why this is an area I'm focusing more attention on in 2017. It is important to me to be able to articulate what I mean by domain literacy because it is a potentially complex, multi-dimensional concept that impacts our physical as well as our digital worlds. 

While there is no antidote for everything that ills us on the web these days, I feel like domain literacy brings some interesting benefits to the table that can help protect the average person from two of the most dangerous things that we face on the web right now:

  1. Phishing - If your are domain literate, you will always right click on ANY link in an email before clicking, closing up the number one way that hackers, and cyber(in)security specialist get into secured networks and systems.
  2. Disinformation - If you are domain literate, you will know every share on Facebook links to a domain, and understand that there is wider context beyond the catchy title, description, and image of the Facebook "card" being shared. 

There are many challenges with ensuring a large percentage of the population meets a baseline domain literacy, and there will be other benefits beyond these, but I feel like we have to begin somewhere. These are two of the most important tools in any cyber(in)security specialist's toolbox. It is how the average person is compromised digitally and misled emotionally, resulting in a very malleable, and exploitable individual.

I am not suggesting that everyone should be fully aware of each web domain of everything they use and share daily, or the inner workings of DNS, I am just suggesting that we draw a baseline of what is domain literacy, and identify what we'd like to accomplish with this definition. If we can help enough folks meet a baseline definition of domain literacy, I can't help but think we could shift the current cyber(in)security environment significantly and make for an incrementally healthier online environment for everybody.

Two Main Reasons 26% Of Americans Seem So Loud Right Now

Things seem really out of control right now, because they are. After getting through a very dark period after the 2016 election, I am working to better understand what is going on, and find the most effective path forward in my work. Over the holidays I overwhelmingly lost faith that the majority of US citizens were decent people, who genuinely cared about the human race. Now that I'm coming out of that funk, I'm trying to figure out a healthy path forward tht will allow me to keep doing work that will make a meaningful impact.

Taking a slightly different path than what I'm reading in the media and some of the blogs I tune into, I'm not going to invest much time in slowing down, changing course, or waiting for 26% of Americans who "got left behind", and felt they needed to vote for Trump. I'm sorry, I do wish the best quality of life for these folks, but not at the cost of women, people of color, Muslims, and queer folks...sorry. Instead, I'm focusing on the other 74% of Americans, many of whom felt they didn't need to vote in the last election--this is where my hope for the future lies. 

I simply cannot believe that the major of this country think that Trump represents a way forward. I'm confident that this is just 26% of Americans seem much louder than the other 74%, making things everything feel way more fucked up than they really are--I see two primary reasons for this:

  1. Suppressing The Voice Of Other - White men with power have long excelled at suppressing the voice of women, people of color, and queer folk. This is how 26% of the population can still inflict so much control over the rest. They have been doing this for centuries, and conditioned many to just be silent, not speak up, and used to being shouted over.
  2. Technological Amplification - The web has overwhelmingly been developed, designed, and operated by men, and specifically white men. There is a reason why the alt-right, conservatives, and Russia are good at this stuff, it was designed by like-minded folks, often with affinity for similar causes (whiteness), possessing a singular focus on generating revenue and extracting value at all costs--making it a rich environment to be co-opted for other more sinister objectives.

I do not hold out much hope that we will win the technological battle in coming years. The bros own the platforms inside and out, and the bros are investing in each wave of technological disruption--all we can do is vote with which platforms we use, and which domains we frequent, and try to operate successfully in the cracks. I want to have hope that we can do technology right, but after having a front row seat for the mobile evolution, and now for the Internet of Things and voice enablement, hope is fading fast.

Where I do hold out hope, is that the people who have had their voices suppressed for decades (centuries / always), and their children who are making white people a minority in the United States will find their voice. I am hoping that Trump is a horrible response from a shrinking group of very fearful and scared white people. Their fear of people who are different from them--a hatred is being amplified by technology, and I'm hoping at some point the voice of the 74% of Americans who do not feel this way will grow louder. I'm hoping they can be more aware of the damaging effects technology can have on our lives and our communities. I'm hopeful that they will speak up in the next election and shift our direction down a better road than we find ourselves on right now.

The Social Bubbles We Experienced During Election Is The Future Of The Web

I feel the overlapping bubble(s) I witnessed on my Facebook profile during the 2016 election is just a little taste of what the future of the web will look like. Many of my conservative friends don't believe they live in a bubble, as well as many of my more liberal friends. I saw claims that "fake news" and "disinformation" does not exist from both camps, and after digging a little, I usually found that these folks lived in a carefully crafted bubble of one kind of another. 

These bubbles weren't designed to split Democrats and Republicans during an election, they were designed to keep you all separated into comfortable little groups so that you could be sold things. It just so happened that overlapping groups of white men, who are really good at the Interwebz employed these existing mechanisms to shift the balance in the election. Obama used a version of this to get elected in both of the last two elections, it just so happened that the conservatives, with the backdrop of the current (and growing) cyber(in)security landscape were just able to take it to entirely new levels, discovering new and exciting ways to disrupt the world around us. #DisruptionFTW!

Everything is being personalized right now for us in the name of capitalism, from education to healthcare, and back again. The young energetic entrepreneurs believe they can make your life better and easier (they will for select groups), but they do not realize what a great vehicle they are also for disruption (I meant they, but they don't). The disruption of markets, the disruption of democracy, and the disruption of the thing that makes the experiment that we call WORLD WIDE web actually work. It's ok they, in the end, they will be fine--they always are.

Increasingly startups are building tools to separate, segment, and personalize the web for "you", leaving out all the bits about where you exist only in their sales funnel. They have a single focus, to identify you, target you, and put you into a bucket where they can monitor, track, and sell you things, on the way to their business exit (cha-ching). They really do not care what other "business models" can be derived from this, as long as it supports their mission of converting you into a transaction. The open web has been under assault by walled gardens like Facebook and Google for some time now and actively being converted into toxic domains where only the bravest will go like with Reddit, and soon to be Twitter--this is by design.

If you don't have what it takes to be on the open web, you'll stay within walled gardens, sticking to where you feel safe, and the messaging speaks to you (good or bad). Public websites will continue to be sliced off by class and access, and if you have the resources to be in the club, you will see a very different version of the web. If you can afford it, there will be someone there to support you. If you are in the club, the features, benefits, and protections from the worst on the web will be there for you. If you can't afford it, things like privacy and security will be sold to you incrementally like your mobile phone plan is currently.

This shift has been going on for a while now. The seeds were planted in the 2.0 version of the web, which gave rise to our current wave of tech leaders like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon and others. In this environment, personalization has taken root, allowing us to target, segment, augment, and compartmentalize the world wide web into smaller much more marketable, and safer bubbles. We have even given the average citizens knobs and levers to pull and twist to further speed up and dial in the process, where they only see, hear, and engage in what they want, and what makes them feel safe. Exactly the version of the web and the world we want to see will be sold to us in real-time, bit by bit, transaction by transaction--it was fun while it lasted.

What I Mean When I Say Domain Literacy

Online web domains are an increasingly important aspect of our daily business and personal lives. I get that the average folk could care less about domains, DNS, and the nuts and bolts of how the web works, but after this election, and as more of our personal and professional lives move online, I feel like folks ignore some of the deeper details at their own peril. In 2016, you either work on someone else's farm (domain), or you work on your own, and increasingly folks are operating their personal lives and business worlds entirely on someone's else's domain.

I do not expect folks to understand domains at a very technical level, but I'm working to develop a baseline expectation of what people should know, and evolve this into a coherent definition of what domain literacy means to me. Domain literacy for me means that an average citizen should have the following awareness:

  • Domains Exist - A basic knowledge that domains exist, they there are many different top level domains, and be able to look at the address bar in their browser and make sense of the domain they are operating within.
  • Domain Due Diligence - Have a basic awareness that there are different entities behind domains, ranging from individuals to corporate, institutional, and government own domains. Ideally they also have basic knowledge of how to conduct a little due diligence to understand who is behind (ie. Whois, Business Search).
  • Domain Experts - Understand which domains are goto when it comes to finding domain experts. Ok, this is where the meaning starts to morph and bend, but I think contributes to the depth of domain literacy, and contributes to the importance of critical thinking as part of developing and strengthing domain literacy.
  • Operate Your Own Domain - That is possible for ANYONE to purchase, and operate their own domain on the Internet, and that this means more than just having a blog or an e-commerce site. Ideally, there is a basic understanding of where to purchase and host your domain, even if it is with an existing service provider like WordPress, Wix, or Reclaim Hosting.
  • Reclaim Your Domain - It is important for people to understand that they have control over their accounts and presence in other domains. That they can download their data, access via APIs, and use in services like Zapier, and even delete their presence within any domain--if they can't, they shouldn't be operating there.
  • Safely Operate In Variety of Domains - Even for those of us who operate heavily within our domains, the reality is that we will always have to operate in 3rd party domains, either mandated by work, our schools, government agencies, or just because it is the popular place to be for fun or business. This is where the average citizen needs a basic level of awareness about operating safely and securely in each domain whether it is Facebook, Twitter, or your banking applications while protecting your own best interface.

These are the core elements of domain literacy in my opinion. It may sound like a lot to ask fo the average citizen, but I don't think it is much different than basic security, safety, common sense, and financial literacy required in the real world. You don't walk into shady establishments in the physical world, and hand over your private information to people you don't know or trust--we just need to help make people more of aware of the details of doing this in the digital, as well as our physical worlds.

This definition is a work in progress for me. This is the first time I've tried to define as a simple outline. I will work to keep refining, and hopefully also provide some basic exercises that people might be able to engage in, to strengthen their awareness when it comes to domains. This stuff will become increasingly important in the future. It will determine whether you are well informed during elections, as well as in control of your finances, the value generated by your own work, as well as your privacy and safety in an increasingly volatile online environment.

Medium And The Importance Of Maintaining Your Own Domain

I wanted to use the recent news about Medium downsizing as an opportunity to educate folks about the importance of maintaining your own domain. I like Medium. I am not as excited about it as some folks are, but I see enough value there that I make sure and make sure it is one of the channels I tend to on a regular basis. However, as I've discussed before, its important to weigh the pros and cons of how much you depend on 3rd party platforms and services for essential pieces of your online presence--like your blog.

I am always thinking deeply about which online services I adopt. Balancing my needs, my budget, how much control I have over my data, content, and algorithms, while also working to understand the motives of each platform, product, and service they offer. I find value in operating on Medium and have even showcased some API provider's usage of the platform for their blog presence, and Medium's own approach to delivering their API. However, I've always been skeptical about Medium's viability, motivations, and what the future might hold.

We should not stop playing with new services, and adopting those that add value to what we are trying to accomplish online, but we should always consider how deeply we want to depend on these companies, and be aware that their VC-fueled objectives might now always be alignment with our own. It is a good time to focus on this topic as we ponder the future of Medium, but I wanted to beat this drum again mainly because of the number of folks who felt they needed to tell me in 2016 that I should move my blog entirely to Medium, without considering that impact to my operations--it is cool man!

I do not condemn folks running their blog on Medium, but at a minimum, you should make sure and set up your own subdomain, otherwise you are handing over all your content, power, and control to Medium. If you are blogging for fun, or just as a side to your career, this might not be a problem, but if you are like me, and depend on your blog to pay your rent, you have to put more thought into where your blog operates. I enjoy the network effect of Medium, but I also enjoy the 5-10K my blog makes each month through sponsorship and content creation--something I have been able to cultivate because I'm maintained full control over my operations for seven years now.

Startup centric folks love to push back on this way of thought, as they prefer all of us to be dependent on them, regardless of their objectives, exit strategies, or high risk of failure. I'm perfectly happy to enter into partnership arrangements with platforms that bring value, but I want to make sure I can always get my data in, and my data out, and make sure all public URLs are reachable via a domain I have DNS control over. I'm sorry, its just good business. In 2016, either you are working on someone else's farm (domain), or you are working on your own, enjoying the fruits of your labor, and profiting from the value you generated on a daily basis.