Why we need to adopt APIs for Digitised Content

Alastair Dunning from JISC (http://twitter.com/alastairdunning). Slides at http://www.slideshare.net/xcia0069/creating-a-hive-of-activity-why-we-need-to-adopt-apis-for-digitised-content

Commercial content services – Flickr, Google Books, Twitter – use APIs to all multiple services to access, manipulate and display their content.

ImageKind – example of commercial service built on Flickr API
Bulkr – enables functionality (data management) that Flickr doesn’t supply
Flickr Stackr – iPad app which uses the Flickr API
Picnik – online photo editor, which can use Flickr API – so successful that Flickr have now embedded into their site
Oskope – visual search of Flickr content – one of many examples (I’ve used http://compfight.com to search Flickr)

The Flickr API has led to the creation of innovative products and services.

But cultural and educational resources tend to lock data and interface together. Three examples Alastair showing – all use the ‘SEARCH then LIST’ approach to the interface. This is really useful, but it’s only one way of interacting with the content

The trouble with current resources is that they demand cerain ways of analysing and representing the resource – and they constitute the creators’ way of seeing the world, not the users’. Diffierent audiences may benefit from different ways of interacting with the resources.

More importantly an API can help break down the notion of a ‘collection’ and the related sils.

Alastair now going to give examples of projects that have used APIs to give access to content.

The NEWTON project – transcribing Isaac Newton’s manuscripts at University of Sussex. A completely separate project at the the University of Cambridge looking at putting scanned images of manuscripts online (I think). JISC funded some work to use APIs to bring content from these two projects together – so you can view both images and transcripts together.

CERL Thesaurus – bringing together discovery mechanisms from CERL and Europeana

Old Bailey – transcriptions of almost 200,000 trials – accessible via API. Means e.g. you can download transcriptions of groups of cases and manipulate locally – e.g. do computerised text analysis – example of using Voyeur tool to analyse all trials meeting certain keyword

Using the API, researchers could test and revise the historical narrative of the evolution of court room practise at the Old Bailey.

Another e.g. “Locating London’s Past” (coming soon) – API enables data to be brought together from multiple sources and visualised in new ways

Some short-term wins of adopting APIs – bringing dispersed resources together and interacting with them in new ways.

But long-term challenges – getting people to build, document and sustain, and explain why they are important. Some publishers suspicious; technical knowledge required to provide and exploit APIs

Ultimately APIs open the possibility of moving beyond just presenting the information and get to exploiting the information.

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