Drones Are A Reflection Of Wider Tech Space For Me

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I love thinking about and playing with my drones, but probably not for the reasons you might think. Drones for me are just a reflection of the wider tech space for me and filled with endless opportunities for good and bad examples fo how tech can be put to use. One example from the real world today, that I think reflects the widening gap between what technology is promised to do, and what it can really do, is from the Google / Chipotle drone delivery story.

In short, the drones do not bring a burrito to you in any convenient, or expected way. It is all staged to provide marketing to Google and Chipotle, hype up the world of drones, and NOT about actually having drone technology making our lives easier. It is all technology theater and keeping you believing that these companies are innovating, and technology is making your life better.

I find it tough to be a critic in the tech space when this type of behavior going on. There is an overabundance of individual belief in the power of technology, as well as organized storytelling and marketing that takes this to almost religious levels. If you start questioning this reality, there are plenty of folks who love to jump on. Whether you are questioning the reality around the self-driving car, artificial intelligence, the blockchain, or that you’ll have burrito and weed delivery in your neighborhood next week, the system is designed to shut you down.

A controlled drone experience on campus, with a wave of positive press ahead of it, and almost no press about the outcomes, is pretty much what about 90% of the tech space is up to these days. Invest heavily in the spectacle, the promises, and the press campaigns, and be as defensive as you can when it comes the outcomes. Then there is a lot of money to be made on the upside, and the downside, if you position yourself in the right ways–there is almost nothing about technology, and everything to do with making money.

I am not saying there will not be drone deliveries in the future. I am saying that there will be a million bullshit stories about drone deliveries, investments made and lost, tech bloggers and readers who eat up every wave of shit thrown at them before we ever see drone deliveries. I would say that it is more likely that any opportunity for drone deliveries at the consumer level gets blown to pieces by drones dropping pizzas on your roof, concerns around privacy, and generally bad behavior from drone operators, before it is ever technically feasible.

Now take drone, and replace it with artificial intelligence, self-driving car, bots, and on, and on… #FUTURE

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Do Not Blog Or Generate Content < Tell Your Story

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I scan a lot of blog posts as I work to monitor the API space. I subscribe to well over 1500 blogs at last count and read the titles of thousands of posts, and the full content for hundreds of posts each week. I see it all. Most of what I see is just content. Those 250, 500, or 750 word posts that are so easy to craft, with an unlimited number of domains willing to let you vomit up for free, in exchange for making a name, or sometimes willing to pay you $10, $15, or $25–it is easy, they are just words!

I can tell that most of it is written to meet some perceived notion of the minimum viable content needed to play in some SEO game. Most of it written by someone who barely cares about the products and services they are paid to write about. I sift through endless amounts of this stuff looking for the stories. In 2016, the return on this investment is worth it. I love it when I do find a story written by someone who cares about a product, a service, the technology behind and the customers that they are in service of.

When I find these people telling stories in the space, I tend to follow them around online. The saddest thing I witness on a regular basis is when these folks go work for the enterprise, where storytelling isn’t encouraged. If I catch folks telling stories I tend to follow them around and harass and encourage them to keep telling stories, no matter what environment they find themselves working in. Who knows, it might encourage them to keep telling stories, even if it is not on a regular basis.

I am always super confused when folks tell me that stories do not matter and that nobody pays attention to my stories. Everything is about stories. The stories startups tell. The stories VCs tell. The stories we tell to each other. The problem is that we all seem to grow up and stop believing, and subscribe to the notion that we should be blogging and generating content, and forget how to all tell the stories that matter, the stories that people will listen to, remember, and tell to others.

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What I Run Synthetic Content (#DesignFiction) Through My Network

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Some people are really confused by the alternative editions of my sites. If you hadn’t noticed the links in the navigation for each of my sites, there is an alternate.kinlane.com and an alternate.apievangelist.com blogs to compliment the main editions. What’s the difference? Well, the alternative editions are fiction, and the primary editions are all non-fiction.

I had published a story the other week about running synthetic data and content through your APIs and my partner in crime expressed her sadness that this wasn’t about the alternative side of my world. This prompted me to think more about why I am increasingly running “synthetic content” aka #DesignFiction through my platform on a regular basis.

  • Distraction – It is a real-time distraction for me as I’m spending hours monitoring the real world of APIs. Thinking about fictional concepts, that are closely aligned with the regular work I am doing, helps me stay fresh, creative, and reduce burnout–allowing me to be more efficient in my regular non-fiction writing.
  • Mind Expanding – The more I write, the easier it is for me to write on a regular basis. I find that my writing was suffering from just focusing on a single topic. I am able to take more diverse takes on all of my work, have a diverse set of ideas to work from, and just craft more stories since my expansion into the fictional world.
  • Out of the Box – Beyond expanding my mind, I find writing fiction alongside my regular industry analysis often puts me completely out of the box. When it comes to monitoring the API space I’m usually focusing on what people are already doing, with the occasional filling in the gaps–when I’m writing non-fiction there are no boundaries, I can talk about ANYTHING!
  • Startup Release – I can write about my ideas for startups like they exist, and explore the ideas like I was actually doing the work. The best part is that I do not actually have to do them. I can put the ideas out there, exercise the muscles provides seeds for other people’s startups, but don’t actually have to own the shitty side of actually doing a startup.
  • Law Enforcement – When I research and write my non-fiction it allows me to explore topics and concepts that normally might get law enforcement to take another look at me. In the current online climate. this can be a problem, where I can easily point to my fictional writing as the reason for my strange web searches and social activity.

These are just a handful of the benefits I’m seeing from running synthetic content through my network, alongside the regular work I do each day. Right now I am producing about 15% fictional work, and 85% non-fiction storytelling and analysis. My goal is to reach a 50/50 balance in my writing, where I am spending equal time exploring design fiction scenarios for every topic and industry I’m researching and providing analysis on.

Some folks have expressed concerns about there being confusion between my fiction and my non-fiction, but I think this already exists online from the promised made by startups regarding technology, all the way to the current cybersecurity environment being defined online. It can be difficult to tell fact from fiction–at least I use the #DesignFiction hashtag in my titles! The fuzziness between fact and fiction online is one of the reasons I think that #DesignFiction is so important, allowing us to tell stories of what might be, or could be, as a result of all this technology we are unleashing on the world.

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I Did Not Write Everything That I Tweet Out

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One thing I notice regularly in my storytelling and sharing in the API space is how many people don’t really notice the authorship behind many of the stories floating around. I often see a retweet of one my tweets sharing out a story I have read, where the person references me as the author of it when it’s pretty clear that it isn’t API Evangelist if you click on the link.

There are a couple things at play here I think. The first layer of folks making this mistake is derived from the fact that people rarely actually read what they Tweet out. Many times folks are just retweeting a title that resonated with them, from a Twitter account they are familiar with. I understand that folks are busy, but you really should be reading things before you share. #JustSayn

Nexxt I think another layer of all of this is that even when people do read a post, they tend to not always see the author behind. I found that I didn’t always notice the author, and learn their name before I began blogging regularly. If you aren’t authoring content, I don’t think you recognize authors work. It is one of those subtle things I think we can take for granted as we make our way around the Internet each day.

This is one of those things I won’t be policing, but felt I should recognize, and help folks realize that I did not write everything that I tweet out.

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Google Spreadsheet To YAML On Jekyll

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I am building out a number of micro tools on Github lately, and since I’m using a lot of the same features across many different projects, before I implement for any specific solution, I am making sure I develop it as a standalone component. I’m trying to encourage a much more modular approach to how I develop API-centric micro tools, building a whole toolbox of reusable components that I can use in my work and something that I can evolve over time, independently of each project.

One of the modules I developed this last weekend was a Google Spreadsheet to YAML on Jekyll solution. This solution is meant to take any Google Spreadsheet that has been made public, pull it via a simple JavaScript that runs on a Jekyll website running on Github Pages. Once it pulls the JSON from Google it converts it to YAML, and if a valid Github OAuth Token is present, it will save the YAML to the _data folder in the Github repository.

I am using this component in a couple different websites and micro tools that I’m developing. Some of these projects involve a non-developer maintaining data and content via a Google Spreadsheet, then triggering the update of the Jekyll website that presents the data or content via website and application. I am increasingly storing machine-readable data and content as YAML in the _data store of various Github hosted research projects, visualizations, and other applications–so opening up this work to be easily edited via a Google Spreadsheet is an important piece of the puzzle for me.

As with each component, I am developing, you can find the code for this in the Github repository, and leave any feedback as an issue for the work.

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An Air Gap Between Me And The Online World

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After coming back from the woods I have worked hard to put in place, and maintain what I’m calling an air gap, between me and the online world. It’s basically putting distance between me and what happens in the online world, giving me room to breathe, increasing my overall productivity, and leaving me with more time to be creative.

After I checked out this summer I had to uninstall all unnecessary applications from my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook. When I had 3G network or wireless Internet, it was always crap, and I needed to keep communication channels open for only the most important of things. After I came back to work I was very cautious and thoughtful about which channels I turned back on, and let into my life once again. The ones I did, I make sure there is an air gap in place, keeping me in control.

Whether it’s Google and Medium analytics, or my email inbox, the Facebooks or Twitters and the numerous Slack channels I’m on–they are all demanding my attention. An air gap isn’t a fix-all solution, but it does give me the space to focus on what matters and get the important things done. I don’t get caught up in every demand for my attention, and I don’t get sucked into unhealthy conversations and toxic battles like I used to. It’s not that I don’t engage anymore, I am engaging even more than before, I am just being much more thoughtful about where and how I engage.

I’m writing about it because I want to get better at talking about it, and making sure that I keep an air gap in place. The more I talk about it, the more I’m aware that it is in place. The more I remember not to have Facebook, Twitter, and Slack open at all times. The more I remember not to respond to any topic, without some deep thought and writing on the subject. I’m not the fastest responder to email, but that is ok. The critical conversations still occur, and the people that matter get through. The rest will wait.

An air gap isn’t the perfect solution, but it does give me the space I need to do my research consistently, and maintain a positive outlook on what is going on in my online world.

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My Workbench Blogging

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I have my own style to blogging that I call workbench blogging. While I do work to edit and polish the stories I publish regularly across my blogs, it is more important to me that I’m producing content alongside my daily research, than it is to be precise in its delivery. Think of my blogs as my workbench, and the stories you read each day are the notes about what I am working on in my workshop each day.

As I’m working, I’m crafting stories to help me think through what I am working on. I act like I’m having a conversation with myself, and with you, my readers, to help me evolve and polish my approach. At the same time, I’m generating content that can be discovered via search and social media, helping immediately make my work accessible to others. I also use my own blog as a discovery mechanism, helping me remember specific companies, services, tools, and other parts of my research for use in future work.

This approach to blogging is not for everyone. I find it rewarding. I get to work through my ideas and research while sharing with others. I find it is an easy way to create a lot of content when you are this transparent. Almost everything I do as API evangelist becomes content, definitions, and code that can be reused–this is why it all runs on Github. My entire workbench is accessible to the public, and my ideas are right out in the open, allowing you to reuse, while also allowing me to make a living and keep doing what I do.

Thanks for taking the time to stop and read my workbench blog.

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