Episode 16 - Data Hacking with Fanatics and the API Coming Out Party


 Kin Lane technology professional and API Evangalist


  • “APIs empower people with data”
  • We use them everyday -- flickr, twitter, amazon web services, del.icio.us, google maps, foursquare, etc
  • APIs empower Data Hacks -- fuel the resources to pursue passions
  • 3scale 
  • API Evangelist 
  • API Commons -- place for api designers to hang their definitions 
  • Why is the commons scary for some?
  • Potential intellectual property -- patent laws are nuts
  • “Citizen Data Scientist”
  • Next 12 months of APIs -- fast pace -- Have been making the title in NYT and Washington Post. Doesn’t seem so scary anymore.
  • Zapier overnight made tons of services available for Google Glass
  • “Reclaim your domain!” -- those are your instagram photos! Those are your tweets!
  • University of Mary Washington -- every student gets a .com and is taught DNS and Wordpress 101.
  • Webcamp 
  • API Evangelist for speaking to normals. developers can be mean. IT can be mean. 
  • Which metrics empower?


Commons -- refers to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. The resources held in common can include everything from natural resources and common land to software.


  • SXSW  - March 7-16, 2014 Austin, TX (POSSIBLY SEE KLINT AND CHRIS PRESENT)  
  • Cyborg Camp - MIT Media Lab - August 2014 - Boston, MA
  • Buddhist Geeks Conference - October 16-19 2014; Boulder, CO




Mindful Cyborgs, Contemplative living in the age of quantification, augmentation and acceleration, with your hosts, Chris Dancy and Klint Finley.

CD: Hey, I’m here with Kin Lane. How are you doing, Kin?

KL: I’m good. How are you today?

CD: It’s a cliché question that starts off every kind of conversation - how are you actually today?

KL: Actually, I am really good. I love being at Defrag because this is a really intimate event. So, I usually don’t look forward to go in conferences. I’m usually in and out speaking and then I’m gone so that’s when I linger around. So, I’m actually truly good.

CD: So, as I told to you earlier I’ll say on the air I can’t go anywhere on earth without someone saying you need to meet Kin Lane and I went and read your blog and became obsessed with everything you’re doing. I’m just a data hack. I’m not an API guy. I’m a data hacker like if I was all grown up and mature I’d be API guy but that’s how I was hacking turned into other thing. So, can you tell us a little bit about your history with API, how you got started with all this?

KL: I’m a data hack myself. I started building databases. My first job was in 1987 right out of high school. I was building databases in COBOL. Fast forward that so the internet came out and building database driven websites and then the cloud emerged and I started building distributed systems using APIs. I saw the writing on the wall. What that did for cloud computing specifically around Amazon’s business but then I saw mobile, I saw what was happening with mobile and I started really tracking on APIs. Not just from a technical sense but actually how this web APIs because web API is circa 2005/06 really wasn’t anything new. We had the whole SOAP SOA thing but that was a really top down industry thing or web APIs are hack. They are about empowering people with the ability to get out information using the same mechanisms as the web HTTP but getting a machine readable way and empowering them to do things with the data.

We saw what happened with Delicious, Flickr, Twitter, Amazon web services, Amazon transforming how they do business. All of this was with web APIs.

CD: I feel better since you’re in data hack. I never had a formal education in writing APIs. I just hack around them until I get the information I need using other people’s code.

KL: Yeah, that’s the beauty of it. I don’t even have a college degree. I’m not classically trained in anything.

CD: Basically, I went to school of accounting so I really . . . even less. I shouldn’t even be talking to people. I should be sitting someone’s background, making them more money.

KL: But see that’s what APIs do. APIs empower people like yourself, hacks like yourself that are domain experts or passionate about radio, music, art whatever, real estate, government and be able to get the resources you need to hack something that’s meaningful in your space.

CD: Yeah. So, we’re both speaking this afternoon. I was really happy I wasn’t speaking right after you because that would be really difficult because I get to do earlier. You are my father, but what are you talking about today at Defrag?

KL: I’m partnering with a company called 3Scale. So, they’re API infrastructure provider and then my blog API Evangelist kind of covers the business and politics takes of API, why are APIs growing, why are they important and so we’re doing a partnership that’s called API Commons and what it is, is it’s a commonplace for people who designed API to hang their API definitions. So, it’s a little geeky. Really those who are leading edge of APIs right now are writing these definitions.

Sometimes they’re in a format called swagger. They may be in a format called I/O Docs. Google has their own API definition format. There’s a couple of new ones that are marked down flavor. [00:04:35] being one. API Blueprint being another, but all these do is they describe API something that’s pretty abstract and pretty hard to wrap your head around. So, these definition documents describe your APIs and they describe it in a programmatic way. So, using these definitions you can generate your API server you can actually generate code libraries and client libraries that use your API. You can generate what’s commonly known as interactive documentation.

These API definitions are kind of the center of the world right now for APIs and we want to create a place where people could hang these designs and make them accessible to other people. So, if you’ve got a great event for calendaring API design you don’t have to share the whole API in open source for API. You just publish the API design in this common area which runs on and then other people can come and fork your design and actually implement it too.

This will be scary to some people but there’s actually . . .

CD: Why is it scary? Do people actually see some sort of unique monitoring value to the API?

KL: Yeah.

CD: I don’t understand why.

KL: Especially in Silicon Valley you’re trying to keep all of your parts and pieces as potential intellectual property. I mean, everything could be give you an edge, a competitive edge and your API design even though it’s out there publicly I mean, I can reverse anyone’s API design. I can reverse engineer Twitter, I can reverse engineer Amazon but as we saw recently with the Oracle versus Google lawsuit where Oracle was saying that the Java APIs - that’s not quite a web API, it’s a different thing - is copyright that they own. You can’t replicate the Java API which is total bullshit.

It’s like it’s a commonly used way of describing interfaces and there’s kind of this grey area. If you look at Amazon, Amazon’s API is replicated by other companies. People have emulated that particular interface but Amazon’s not saying yes do it but they’re also not saying no.

CD: I see some interesting thing happening with API. I mean you take one provider who’s got a pretty normalized API and then they switch something up and hundreds of services go dark and one of the common things I keep seeing but I don’t know if I’m suffering from confirmation bias around this is citizen X. So, there’s citizen scientist. There is citizen developer that I’m reading about now but I think in some ways we’re going to start to see citizen data sciences, right?

Nate Silver [00:07:22] which probably happens anyway but that’s a whole another show.

KL: Yeah, and we’re seeing citizen with all the government stuff there is a lot of things people can do on the ground not as a programmer but just as a kind of a data junkie that cares about changing governments.

CD: . . . Coca Cola recently and did that piece Coke. I think they’re called freestyle machines. They’re all these big networked machines that you can mix your own drinks and stuff and they’re telling me some of the things they were collecting with it and as a data junkie when you hear about a networked soda dispenser, you start thinking gosh there’s a lot of little bit stuff, right?

KL: Yeah.

CD: [00:07:58] start spinning. So I think [00:08:02]. What excites you about the next 12 months and APIs outside of the Commons?

KL: I mean, really just the pace at which everything is. In 2012 . . . so, I started API Evangelist in 2010. First year and a half I was evangelizing. I was really telling stories over and over and over trying to make the mainstream aware of what was happening. Now, I don’t have to do that. The pace is there. I mean, you see articles in the New York Times, in the Washington where they say API in the title. You used to never see that acronym. It’d be in the body of the post but . . .

CD: Well, it doesn’t seem so scary.

KL: It isn’t.

CD: It doesn’t seem to scare especially when people use hundreds APIs every day and they are just labeled with do this with this API, you become more comfortable with it but they seem to be exponentially scary. Are you familiar with Zapier? Yeah, Wade Foster I think is this really great guy, great customer service too but one of the things I thought they did that was really unique is because of the way they work with different APIs and then they’ve got this Zapier or bundle servicing where they can take up service without an API and kind of like give you some access to it.

For Google Glass which some people love, some people hate. It is what it is, because they had a wrapper. They just built a wrap around it and suddenly you have all this access to all these services that would never show up on Glass that overnight you have 100 new glass applications. That can be scary for companies.

KL: Yeah. That’s empowerment right there. That for me APIs are not just for developers because someone can access their own resources.

CD: It’s your data, yeah.

KL: And the thing is we operate in all of these clouds. We’ve migrated to the cloud environment and we exist in 14, 15 different places and these people are monetizing our data and so I’ve been doing a lot of talk at the university level lately. I’m working on a project right now called reclaim your domain which is basically teaching people basic web literacy stuff and the fact that those are your Instagram photos, those are your Flickr photos, that’s your Twitter data. You can get it out. How do you reclaim your domain and start taking control and APIs are how we do that.

CD: Yeah. That’s really good because that’s the one thing I think that really set my kind of second career alive this year was I was in my data closet for about 3 years. I was harvesting my own information and when people found out that I was doing it, they were like how and then you become this like shaman of data. No, you can do it too and I think you should. Everybody should start right now. I think you should stop talking to me and go figure out how to get your post out of these things.

KL: Well, this particular project that I’m working on getting some grant funding. I got a team. What I’m going to work on is based upon University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. They have every student who comes in gets their own domain and not just at the university, they get their own dot com and they teach them DNS and they teach them how to set up WordPress 101 and then they start teaching them those concepts.

Well, when you do all your projects or portfolio having on your own server under your domain when you leave the school, you take it all away and then so when they go out into the real world reclaim your domain kicks up and goes you need to own all your stuff. This is your world.
CD: Ultimately, it’s a portable identity.

KL: And it’s up to you to go I want this in my locker in my storage space.

CD: I’ve got a locker too because when I started I was just getting the data dumped into something then I wanted to visualize it and that’s when I started pumping . . . I have about 300 data points that I would like to pump into a calendar and it’s like then I color code them. There’s another concept I recently learned about [00:11:54] webcam. It’s all about getting your own site. You do all your data entry in one area and then it goes out to the other sites.

KL: Nice.

CD: It’s very small. Events like this I think are starting to connect those like finding people. Like I said I couldn’t go anywhere without someone who saw me speak and then go, “Do you know Kin Lane?” as if you and I have like grown up together or something. So, there must be something too all this attack.

KL: Oh yeah. No, it’s definitely . . . I mean, I started API Evangelist to speak to the normals because I really feel this is empowering and I feel developers even though I am one can be very mean and IT can be very mean about teaching this. They want to keep it close. They want to be the man behind . . .

CD: Job security.

KL: Yeah, and I saw the potential [00:12:43] open this up and democratize and I see people’s eyes light up when you empower them in a job, in organization, in government, whatever.

CD: So much of what we do is tied to a device, an application, a service we’re sensitive and if for no other reason your only metrics at a white collar job are your readiness and your calendar appointments. I don’t know if I could see how many times I opened up Google Docs as a metric, I feel better about what I did today. It’s not how much I didn't do. All the metrics right now how much I didn’t do would work and APIs I think in some ways if nothing else - that’s why I go with the quantified self - like what did I do.

KL: Zapier and those kind of tools allow you to pull that kind of data like you could pull all of your Evernotes and dumping into a spreadsheet or all your tools and then you can put counts on that and go what did I accomplish each day and then for me I do that and then I go well, you know what? The number of pages my blog really doesn’t make me happy. It’s metric. I’ll keep paying attention to it but doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is the number of blog post I wrote because I’m creating not producing.

The number of times I chat with my daughter. You know, you can be in control of defining which metrics actually empower you that optimize for having [00:13:59]. What is it and APIs empowering that.

CD: That’s the reason I could talk to you all day.

KL: Thank you.

CD: So, where can we find you online?

KL: Apievangelist.com. I’m the only Kin Lane out there so K-I-N L-A-N-E. I don’t think there’s any other so I’m easy to find.

CD: You’re pretty easy to find. Thank you so much and thank you for all your work you’re doing for the common man and the normals. There are not many people out there who . . . all keep talking about it but nobody’s doing it.

KL: Yeah. Well, I’ve been doing it 3 years now. I’m going on my fourth year soon and lot of that’s unpaid. It’s what I do. I think it’s important.

CD: It’s paid in a different way and I think I’m close to API economy. You are the man who invented the first dollar.

KL: Yes.

CD: Exactly. Thank you very much.

KL: Well, thank you. Appreciate it.