Space: the API

My car’s check engine light came on. Being both modern and a cheapskate I found the online community where Passat owners hang out. My old car there had a secret pattern of key turns and button pushes that would cause the car reveal engine’s fault. I was hoping for something similar.

But car makers love to keep things secret. German car maker are more secretive than Japanese makers. So it is verboten for Passat owners to know what lies behind their check engine lights. My fellow owners showed me a way. Autozone will read out your check engine codes for free. Autozone has solidarity with those who to fix their own cars.

The man at Autozone climbed under my steering wheel and plugged in. He and I copied the codes down onto a peice of paper. He then placed his finger just under a large yellow button on the read out device. He held it up, away from his body, toward me. He turned and gazing away into the distance. My eyes followed, a large warehouse sat on the far side of the parking lot. He said speaking into the empty car. “If it’s still under warrenty we can’t press the big yellow button. That clears the codes.” He paused, gazing more closely at the warehouse. “I” “Can’t push the yellow button.”

The inside of Autozone is full of gadgets to hack your car. An entire asle of things that plug into the cigarette lighter. A wall of steering wheel covers. Two racks of things to hang from the rear view mirror. Devices that clip to the air vents on the dash board.

I once built a store front. A place where developers could sell their wares. The developer products all plugged into an existing product. Our product. We called it the developer’s market place, it was a way for the developers to reach our customers, our product’s users.

As mentioned car makers like to horde their options. They like to sell you the radio rather than relinquish that option to some random 3rd party. So generally auto makers are not very big on open APIs. I suspect they grumble about that cigarette lighter.

But standing looking at the Hawain shirt steering wheel covers at Autozone I had an epiphany. How little it takes to create an API. How small an affordance. The convex shape of the steering wheel, the latent hook on the rear view mirror, the trickle of electricity in the cigarette lighter.

A few days later I was listening to a talk by one of the dudes who have been hacking on the Prius. He throws up a slide showing the floor under the hatchback. There’s a panel. The panel is removed in his next slide and there is a small shallow space. Just a few inches deep. Useless really.

But, immediately I knew. That empty space! Full of latent energy. Waiting for their hack. Drawing them in. “Fill me!”

What happened? Why did Toyota leave that space? Did they actually know what they were doing. Did they know that empty space is an open API for developers? It’s not as hard to create open APIs as you might think.

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