November 21, 2014
(This is cross-posted at Medium.)
“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.
Date: November 21st, 2014 dw