March 2006
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Month March 2006

Scraping data and API’s

Scrapperwas wondering how easy it would be to build a generic approach to opening up API’s on web sites who didnt formally publish them and then last night I saw this post about scrAPI’s. Great stuff — would like to be able to cut and paste data sources and mix them together myself. I find myself doing manually today too often (eg: the other night I was cutting and pasting rotten tomatoes reviews vs. a movie database). So many mashup’s today and based on geo location data — its like my one year old who has six or seven words, most everything is at some point “hot”. Latitude and longitude are just the easiest and first data source to be mined — things are going to get a lot more interesting as the data sources become increasingly diverse. I am interested in Thor Muller’s coming posts on the business and legal issues regarding scpAPIng.

What you believe?

We went to lunch yesterday to this small island called Isola Comacina. The island is tiny and has one restaurant on it and a lot of history behind it. The restaurant is run by Benvenuto Puricelli — dressed in a traditional outfit with a stripped woolen ski hat he serves lunch to his guests. There is no menu — you sit down and there from then onwards there is a steady stream of food and drink, always the same menu, everyday that its open, for every year, since 1949.

As Benvenuto will explain (and at the end of every-meal he does) the islands story stretches back to the times when the lake was part of the fjords. There is a rich history including saints, wars, attempts to re-create eden and finally curses. For in 1127 an anonymous poet cursed the island. Shortly thereafter (1196) the Island was sacked. Sacked by the city of Como — castle destroyed, churches burnt, inhabitants killed. Between 1196 and 1948 not a lot of people lived on the island. The curse — that anyone who lived on the island or visited it would die — held sway. The island passed hands to hands — from 1919 to 1927 the Island was owned by Belgium (note the whole island is less than half a mile long). Then in 1948 a proposal was made to open an Inn on the Island — when the two people involved in the proposal met swift and untimely deaths it was assumed the curse was with the island forever. Right around then that another poet showed up. Francis Dale suggested that an exorcism was needed, specifically an exorcism by fire. So every meal that Benvenuto prepares concludes with the exorcism. During the exorcism he retells the story of the island, while preparing a flaming mix of coffee, brandy and sugar in a large urn. You have to experience it to believe it. There is more history of the island here (see picture of Benvenuto), and here.

One of the things that struck me about the lunch was the depth of Benvenuto’s belief. So much so that its embedded in his actions. Benvenuto believes that in order to keep the curse at bay, to keep the restaurant and his life, he needs to perform this ritual. What are the beliefs and rituals I follow everyday and question them no more than Benvenuto does? These beliefs are a form of unconscious selection — and they make up part of the fabric of how we live our lives.

The web and web pages have from the outset been constructed using metaphors from print and other media types. There are layers and layers of beliefs embeded in how the web is constructed. I sometimes think of web sites as vertical, branded contructs. Yet the verticality is mostly a product of these metaphors. Data is starting to move laterally accross vertical sites — creating facinating new applications and services. I remember back in October of 1994 reading an article in wired titled “the second phase of the revolution has begun”. I remember having sweaty palms thinking now the web was featured in Wired it would be at most a year or two before the web would settle into a steady and predictable pattern. Here I am 12 years later and the web is still constructing and reconstucting itself — the innovation that is occuring today on the edge of the web is as interesting as ever. And gradually the beliefs we have about the medium are becoming supplanted by its intrinsic properties.

(the view from Comacina)