Researchers and evaluators, you should know about APIs

Application Programming Interfaces will become increasingly more important to research and evaluation as the years go on. But, if you’re like many of my colleagues, chances are you don’t know anything about APIs. It’s time to learn, start by checking out this article from Programmable Web. If you’re only going to glance, I suggest scrolling down to the part about government APIs.
Fresh Spectrum cartoon where one person asks to share data and the other says that their computers should talk


  1. Susan Kistler on March 21, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Great toon Chris! Any chance you can share a bit more on APIs – either here or on aea365? I feel like my own understanding is just scratching the surface (in my slightly addled mind APIs are a little like RSS for data?!?). The article you focuses primarily on using APIs, do you have any experience with generating an API? Advice? Where to start? When appropriate?

  2. Chris on March 21, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks Susan. Over the next year I hope to build my level of knowledge regarding APIs. Creation and direct use of APIs are really in the realm of web development. Most evaluator experiences with these things will be second hand, through developed applications, like nodeXL and HootSuite.

    APIs come in all shapes and sizes. To go super basic, APIs are just mechanisms that allow direct access to certain features of an application by other applications. Of most use to evaluators and researchers, this can, and is, used to provide direct access to live data. It’s how a site can visualize Twitter on the fly. So it’s not waiting for Twitter to release data, instead you are granted direct access to the source.

    Understanding what is made available through an API can also give you context into how some of these applications work. For instance, there are multiple Twitter APIs some are better than others at collecting/presenting all the data. So, if you wonder why some Twitter applications seem to miss tweets, this is likely a major reason.

    The benefit to creating an API is that you are inviting developers to make use of the data you are collecting. A lot of agencies are putting these things out there hoping some developer will come along and turn it into something useful.

    This is still new territory for many, but at this point, to create an API or develop something from an API, you’ll need to work with a developer. I would be happy to write something for AEA365, but just so you know, I’m still in the process of wrapping my head around around the subject and do not, as of yet, have much in the way of practical experience.