First New York Times API is Live – Here’s Why it Matters

The much-anticipated first Application Programming Interface (API) from the New York Times went live today, according to a post on the company’s blog Open – All the code that’s fit to printf(). First up is a campaign finance data API and next is a movie review API. Also available is a database management program initially developed for internal use at the NY Times.

The Times quietly announced in May that it would soon be publishing APIs, which are means by which outside developers can access NY Times data for use in other applications, interfaces and mashups. We believe that steps like this are going to prove key if big media is to thrive in the future.

What’s In the Campaign API?

The Times describes its initial offering like this:

With the Campaign Finance API, you can retrieve contribution and expenditure data based on United States Federal Election Commission filings. Campaign finance data is public and is therefore available from a variety of sources, but the developers of the Times API have distilled the data into aggregates that answer most campaign finance questions. Instead of poring over monthly filings or searching a disclosure database, you can use the Times Campaign Finance API to quickly retrieve totals for a particular candidate, see aggregates by ZIP code or state, or get details on a particular donor.

The Campaign Finance API is currently limited to presidential campaign data. Future versions will include house and senate campaign data.

The demonstration application built with this API is a simple mashup of the campaign contributions and the Google Charts API, to create a graph of contributions by zip code. You know what we’d like to see? A Greasemonkey script that shows political contributions for a geographic area whenever a user hovers over that area’s name on a web page. Would that be cool, or what?

The possibilities are truly endless.

We’re very excited to see what kinds of data the Times opens up next.

Why APIs are Important for Newspapers

The UK Guardian is the best example of a newspaper that understands the opportunities in becoming a broker of machine-readable data, instead of just human readable content. Reuters is doing something similar with it’s Calais program. (Calais is an RWW sponsor.)

Reporting is no longer a scarce commodity. It’s hard for these huge news organizations to do it faster, cheaper or even as well as a whole web of new media producers around the world. They may be among the top sources for original content still today, but considering the direction technology is moving in – that’s not a safe bet for the future.

One thing that big media still does have a particularly good share of, though, is information processing resources and archival content. The Times’ campaign contribution API is a good example of this. The newspaper is far better prepared to organize that raw information, and perhaps offer complimentary content, than any individual blogger or small news publisher.

They, along with everyone’s favorite API management service Mashery (again powering another exciting API), have the skills and the draw to offer this data in a way that a lot of developers will find compelling. When developers create applications that use their data, the Times will once again assert itself as an essential part of our information landscape – both in mind share and in inbound links/Search Engine Optimization for their online content.

Further, the times are changing and if you’re not publishing for those readers of yours who happen to be robots – you’re missing out on an important constituency.

We’re really excited about the New York Times APIs and we look forward to seeing what kinds of innovative things the development community can do with them.

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