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Read/write APIs redefine content

NPR has tweaked its application programming interface to allow content to flow in as well as out. The future of cloud-based content is in such read-write APIs.

National Public Radio, which produces popular programs such as "All Things Considered," "Talk of the Nation," and "JazzSet," was an early adopter of Web technology, making its content available through a standards-based API, or application programming interface.

APIs are at the heart of many cloud services that provide for two-way, or read-write, communication such as Twitter or Salesforce.com.

A firehose of content (meaning read-only) is all well and good, but having the ability to integrate and tweak content into new forms makes it much more interesting.

Earlier this year, NPR announced API Ingest, an update that allows for not only the consumption of NPR shows, but for read-write publishing from authorized sources. In addition to these new read-write features, the NPR API will soon provide access to NPR blog content, providing developers access to blog content using the same API that provides access to NPR stories and transcripts.

Generally speaking, it's much easier to provide an API that allows consumption without publishing (or read-only), but services such as Twitter that rely on third party clients and services to post to their stream wouldn't have nearly the scale or user base they do without the publishing functionality built into APIs. In fact, the Twitter API has roughly 10 times more usage than the Web interface garnering 75 percent of tweet traffic.

NPR's approach to read-write news is a logical step in the evolution of news gathering and dissemination through and between a variety of trusted sources. In keeping with NPR's mission, content accessed through the API is available to registered users for personal, noncommercial use, or for noncommercial online use by nonprofit organizations.

The big picture on read-write APIs is the potential for other news outlets to follow suit and allow for broader integration of stories across multiple properties in a similar model, a role that RSS has largely filled.

In addition to read-write functionality, APIs can offer a number of advantages over RSS in that they can be designed to better enhance content with metadata or other criteria (such as location) that bring additional value to the content. And while more complexity is usually not better, a number of new services, such as Apigee, provide tools and analytics to ensure that APIs remain stable and functional.

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