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APIs are changing the business environment and hold the promise of changing the education environment

 In his article, API: Three Letters That Change Life, the Universe and Even Detroit, Cade Metz writes about how APIs (or Application Programming Interfaces) are changing the world of business. “They’ve already transformed websites like Google and Facebook and Twitter into services that talk to a world of other applications, across PCs as well as mobile phones. But that’s small potatoes. They’re also breathing new life into old-world operations, including mobile carriers like AT&T and even auto makers like General Motors.”

So, what are APIs? APIs are the background technology that allows communication between the Facebook application on your smartphone and the Facebook website. A good example of an API is the Google Maps API. The Google Maps API allows people to place interactive Google maps on their own websites with all the functionality of a map on Google Maps. The API allows communication back and forth between the two applications, adding value to both applications with the partnership (mapping capability is added to the individual’s website while Google gains further exposure to the Google Maps “Brand”).

A couple more examples of commonly used APIs:

  • Facebook API: allows users to log into other websites using their Facebook login and allows users “Like” a blog post on one website and have it appear on their Facebook wall
  • Flicker: A website can pull in photos from Flicker on a certain subject of from a specific user’s profile is a website that catalogs and categorizes APIs. As of this writing, it has over 5000 APIs listed.

APIs are now also appearing the Education environment. has 91 APIs categorized with the tag “Education”. This opens up new possibilities for the educational environment to build new applications with the available information and services provided by the APIs.

There are many APIs listed on that can be used in applications in education:

  • NatureServe and World Register of Marine Species API allow access to species data (including images) and name registry information
  • The Mendeley API allows access to the Mendeley academic social network, collaboration tool, and application, which includes a reference manager. In fact Mendeley recently held a competition to see who could build the best application with their API (Mendeley API Battle: open genetics-sharing tool declared victorious by Jonathan M. Gitlin)
  • The Arxiv API allows access to the Arxiv academic research repository of e-prints in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Quantitative Biology, Quantitative Finance and Statistics
  • In the world of libraries, the QuestionPoint API allows access to the QuestionPoint knowledgebase containing questions and answers from contributed by nearly 500 libraries worldwide
  • Finally, the Quizlet API allows application developers to integrate Quizlet’s database of over 200 million flashcards into their applications.

Mark O’Neill writes that if you “Free Your Data [by creating APIs]… the Apps Will Follow.” The increase in APIs holds the promise of soon changing the academic environment as it has changed the business environment.

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