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My brother is trying to figure out how to sync his Google calendars with his Microsoft Outlook calendar and asked my advice. Being one of those techie guys Iím always being asked for advice for stuff I donít really know about, but I was a big Outlook user for a long time. So long, in fact, that Iím kind of surprised that I didnít notice when I stopped using it.
Almost all my email is on Google now. My calendar is completely on Google. And itís not that I love Google, itís that I love being able to check my messages and schedule no matter where I am or what device Iím using.
I start an email on my phone and then realize how ridiculous itís going to be tapping out a manifesto on a tiny, virtual keyboard, so I put my phone down, open up my laptop, and my pearls of wisdom are already in Gmail so I can continue writing without missing a brilliant thought.
I can also delete it and it will be gone from my phone as well as my laptop when I realize Iím not nearly as clever as I thought I was.
But the reason I really like this revolution in how we interact with all this data is because I hate being stuck with a single way of doing things. Or maybe I prefer one way to do things, but I donít want to be dragged along with the way everyone else wants to do things.
Take Netflix, for example. I watch movies on my laptop when traveling, and sometimes on my phone, too. When at home, I usually watch Netflix on the Wii or the Blu-ray player that has Netflix built in. And the thing is, it doesnít matter which box I use, they all know where I stopped watching that last episode of House of Cards.
Personally I like the controls on the Wii more than the Blu-ray. The content is the same, but the search functions and the layout is a little different. Netflix doesnít actually design these interfaces, they just give Sony and Vizio access to all the movie titles, and (if I log in) they can get my info. Then itís up to the designer to, well, design the interface.
This goes back to my philosophy when I started my web design team back in the last millennium. I hired graphic designers who didnít know a thing about web development, but they could make awesome pictures. Then I would hire programmers who didnít know a thing about design, but they could get the nuts and bolts working.
There was a special person who knew a little about both design and development who would then tie the two bits together. That person didnít decide what it would look like or hot it would work, but instead, was the mediator between the look and the function folks.
APIs are like that. Now you can have a killer designer get all sorts of functions (like where I left off watching a movie), all sorts of info (like what Netflix recommends I watch next), and they donít have to know a damn thing about Cassandra databases creating eventual data consistency across the cloud. They just know that they ask for a list of movies and they get it.
So, back to Johnís email and calendar problem. Heís fighting the Microsoft monolith in an era where his events are one thing, and the calendar he looks at those events is another thing.
He shouldnít even be having to ask, ďHow do I sync my calendar?Ē because it isnít about owning a database of events on your hard drive. He should be asking, ďWhat cool calendar apps are there that will make it easier to see my professional calendar next to my kidís schedules?Ē
Itís not, as so many people say in my business, about setting your data free. Itís about setting you free so you can get on with your life and stop having to be your own sysadmin.
You donít have to love APIs; you donít even have to know they exist. But you gotta love something that sets you free.