There’s an API for That

This week’s DITA session really put 2 and 2 together. Not only are things starting to click together in my non-tech savvy brain, but also literally we explored combining web services using  API’s and embedding. Wait, what?

A web service is a business that shares data across a network. The best examples are social media sites, Facebook and Twitter. Both platforms would be blank outlines without their users’ input. Facebook and Twitter are really companies that share and store users’ data. Each company has copyrighted code to handle and present the information in a specific way. That’s why facebook always looks like facebook.

APIs (application programming interface) are defining pieces of a web services code that allow data to be shared across platforms.  This allows programmers to make hybrid websites that combine everyone’s favorite elements.

For those of us who have never programmed anything in their lives (me) an easier way to combine web services is through embedding. Simply put, embedding is putting one form of media inside another. For example, the following R.E.M. video Bad Day is embedded into this blog post.

Computer scientists are way ahead of me. Even libraries are beginning to integrate ‘mash ups’ (a cooler term for API) in their tool kit. The book “Library Mashups: Exploring New Ways to Deliver Library Data” edited by Nicole Engard, is a compilation of essays used as a testimony that updating library websites with API mashups makes the website more helpful to their users. One example comes from a public library. Their website was once static. People used it to view the catalogue and check basic information about the library. The library staff started using content driven websites like Flickr to post about events going on at the library. People really liked the idea of being able to comment on and discuss events going on in their community.

Before this session I did not know any of the technical aspects to embedding media, but now that I’m aware of it, I can spot a mash up a mile away. More importantly, I’m able to evaluate and think critically about the purpose and result of combining things on the web.