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November 21, 2014

APIs are magic

(This is cross-posted at Medium.)

Dave Winer recalls a post of his from 2007 about an API that he’s now revived:

“Because Twitter has a public API that allows anyone to add a feature, and because the NY Times offers its content as a set of feeds, I was able to whip up a connection between the two in a few hours. That’s the power of open APIs.”

Ah, the power of APIs! They’re a deep magic that draws upon five skills of the Web as Mage:

First, an API matters typically because some organization has decided to flip the default: it assumes data should be public unless there’s a reason to keep it private.

Second, an API works because it provides a standard, or at least well-documented, way for an application to request that data.

Third, open APIs tend to be “RESTful,” which means that they work using the normal Web way of proceeding (i.e., Web protocols). All you or your program have to do is go to the API’s site using a standard URL of the sort you enter in a browser. The site comes back not with a Web page but with data. For example, click on this URL (or paste it into your browser) and you’ll get data from Wikipedia’s API: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/api.php?action=query&titles=San_Francisco&prop=images&imlimit=20&format=jsonfm. (This is from the Wikipedia API tutorial.)

Fourth, you need people anywhere on the planet who have ideas about how that data can be made more useful or delightful. (cf. Dave Winer.)

Fifth, you need a worldwide access system that makes the results of that work available to everyone on the Internet.

In short, API’s show the power of a connective infrastructure populated by ingenuity and generosity.

In shorter shortnesss: API’s embody the very best of the Web.

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October 24, 2013

E-Dickinson

The Emily Dickinson archive went online today. It’s a big deal not only because of the richness of the collection, and the excellent technical work by the Berkman Center, but also because it is a good sign for Open Access. Amherst, one of the major contributors, had open accessed its Dickinson material earlier, and now the Harvard University Press has open accessed some of its most valuable material. Well done!

The collection makes available in one place the great Dickinson collections held by Amherst, Harvard, and others. The metadata for the items is (inevitably) inconsistent in terms of its quantity, but the system has been tuned so that items with less metadata are not systematically overwhelmed by its search engine.

The Berkman folks tell me that they’re going to develop an open API. That will be extra special cool.

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June 11, 2012

DPLA West meeting online

The sessions from the DPLA Plenary meeting on April 27 in SF are now online. Here’s the official announcement:

…all media and work outputs from the two day-long events that made up DPLA West–the DPLA workstream meetings held on April 26, 2012 at the San Francisco Public Library, and the public plenary held on April 27, 2012 at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, CA–are now available online on the “DPLA West: Media and Outputs” page:http://dp.la/get-involved/events/dplawest/dpla-west-media-and-outputs/.

There you will find:

  • Key takeaways from the April 26, 2012 workstream meetings;

  • Notes from the April 27, 2012 Steering Committee meeting;

  • Complete video of the April 27, 2012 public plenary;

  • Photographs and graphic notes from the public plenary;

  • Video interviews with DPLA West participants;

  • And audio interviews with DPLA West scholarship recipients.

More information about DPLA West can be found online at http://dp.la/get-involved/events/dplawest/.

Folks from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and the Berkman Center worked long and hard to create a prototype software platform for the DPLA in time for this event. The platform is up and gives live access to about 20M books and thousands of images and other items from various online collections. The session at which we introduced, explained, and demo’ed it is now available for your viewing pleasure. (I was interim head of the project.)

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