Harry Potter facts via machine-payable API

At 21.co, the pioneering Bitcoin network, machines can buy and sell API calls — including, as of today, a feed of fascinating facts about the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, including her latest, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The Wizard Facts bitcoin app was built by the algorithmic publishing startup PageKicker. (The app is unauthorized and relies on fair use reference information.) To check it out, you need to join the 21 network and either install the free 21 command line app for Linux or buy a 21 Bitcoin computer.

Installation of 21 is easy.

The 21 CLI comes with a steady flow of satoshis (one hundred millionth of a single bitcoin or 0.00000001 BTC) that can be used to buy and sell digital goods and services via the 21 network. Once you have connected to the network you can publish apps to the 21 marketplace.

The 21 marketplace.

There are about 100 apps in the marketplace right now, mostly APIs to technical services, but a few are entertainment ones like Wizard Facts. Writing it took only a few hours using the documentation here with some help from pals on the 21co slack channel.

Click on the app and you get the dead-simple instructions on how you can use the 21 API to deliver an endless stream of tailored content to your customers.

A simple Linux command.

The result:

What is this good for? Well, at the very least, it is a fun way for developers who like Harry Potter to get acquainted with 21. But more importantly, this is a sign of the future: microcontent microcommerce via the machine-payable web. In real world use cases, it will be programs that consume the content from these APIs in JSON format and route the content where it’s needed: the “hello” message for the intranet signon, the twitter autofeed for a Potter list, the facebook ad for a Potter fan … all programmatically determined. And there is absolutely no reason why this content need to be limited to facts about Harry Potter. Imagine billions of these little engines selling chunks of content to other machines in real time, as needed, with the clients piping the content to users in a self-sustaining environment entirely distinct from the increasingly unsustainable clickbaitfest [Ger.] that is today’s web.

Will this actually happen? Well, it depends a lot on how well 21.co executes. They seem to be doing everything right so far. They have a visionary CEO, Balaji Srinivasan (Twitter https://twitter.com/balajis), $121.5M (!) in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, and a glorious vision of billions of devices connected to their network via the http 402 status code. They have executed beautifully so far, especially on the software side. The 21 app is a joy for anyone who likes the command line, the online documentation is the best I have ever seen, and support for developers is complete and unflagging.

For these reasons I am tempted to make a big bet on 21 and focus PageKicker on 21 as the platform for the publishing industry’s transition to the machine-payable and machine-generated world of the future, a tsunami which is going to surge far deeper inland on the continent of Booklandia far sooner than anyone realizes. What’s holding me back is uncertainty about 21’s prospects. When I go on the 21 slack channel, there are usually only 3 or 4 people present. There appear to be only about 100 apps in the Marketplace. Most of the Bitcoin & blockchain people that I talk with don’t know much about 21 and are often dismissive. The company still has a minimal profile in the tech press. My gut feeling is that this is strategic on 21’s part, and that they are going to execute their next phases superbly, with some tectonic announcements like built-in Chrome support for 21, but at this juncture it’s tough to make that case to prospective customers. At this point I would simply advise people to stay tuned and watch this world of machine-payable APIs, because it may be about to eat the Web. Stay tuned!