When it comes to venerable publications, few hold as much esteem as The New York Times – and few have as much access to interesting user data. That’s why we’re excited to hear that the Times’ API team has announced the release of its latest API, TimesPeople, which provides developers with access to data on registered NYTimes.com TimesPeople readers‘ sharing and reading habits.

What data is accessible? The API offers access to details on particular NYTimes.com readers and their network, including the reader’s TimesPeople profile information, recommendations, comments, ratings, and profiles and actions for the TimesPeople that the reader is following. Like many APIs, developers are required to sign up for an API key, and they are limited to 5000 requests per day.

Originally announced in May of last year, The NYTimes API selection continues to grow. The TimesPeople API joins other available APIs including Article Search, Best Sellers, Campaign Finance, Community, Congress, and Movie Reviews.

So What Does This Mean?

For The New York Times, this release marks a continued commitment to opening up data resources to the social Web, allowing developers to leverage NYTimes.com data to enhance their existing offerings – or to serve as the foundation for entirely new offerings.

Granted this news may not seem like much, especially to members of a community who see applications launching every day with open APIs. But for the traditionally sheltered and closed mainstream media, allowing readers access to full-text RSS feeds and publicly available user data tends to be a big deal.

Even if you’re not excited about the traditional media becoming more open, it’s still worth mentioning – if only for the fact that an entity like the NYT continuing to move in this direction lends additional credence to the vision for an open and social Web, as a whole.

Hopefully, more dead-tree publications will follow the Gray Lady’s lead. If they do, we’re all sure to win as creative developers find ways to mash data from disparate sources. (It doesn’t take a huge intuitive leap to imagine the type of filtering availed by combining data from social bookmarking, social networks, and news APIs.)

This access to real data from real users is sure to give us a better understanding of what news is truly important – and what stories deserve placement on the front pages of the future.