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2005/07/15 Open API's


© July 2005 Tony Lawrence

While Open Source is obviously what we'd prefer to see, open API's (Application Programming Interfaces) are something to be applauded also, Nothing has shown that more clearly than the flurry of innovation that followed when Google and Yahoo opened up the interface to their on-line maps.

The first thing I came across was Alan Taylor's Google Maps Transparencies. This cleverly overlays a transparent street map on Google's satellite view. That gets a tremendous "Kool!" rating in my book. But that's only the beginning. I'm sure we'll be seeing lots more of the sort of thing that Chicago Crime has done by tagging colored ballons representing types of crimes at specific map locations.

What made this possible was open API's - giving the world the instructions to allow this sort of interaction with the underlying maps. Without that, some of this still could have been done with reverse engineering or clumsy brute force usage, but it would have been much more difficult and sometimes crude.

Do Google and Yahoo lose anything? No, they gain. By being open, their technology gets used in ways they might never have imagined. We gain even more from that, but it all circles around and its quite possible that Google or Yahoo will come up with something even more wonderful because of the things outsiders do with their API's.

Of course there are good and bad API's, too. O'Reilly has a piece on How To Roll Out An Open API that talks about the kind of complicated, limited or otherwise flawed API (so typical of Microsoft, by the way) that tick us off. They explain how to Do It Right, and we can only hope that more companies will see the value of both doing this and of doing it well.


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