What is an API?
Application Programming Interfaces let computer programs “talk” to one another and exchange information, so a dataset with an API can be accessed by third-party developers with innovative ideas. For instance:
- The Federal Aviation Administration provides travel websites and mobile apps with live airport status and delay information through its Airport Service API.
- The Pillbox API from the National Library of Medicine powers third party mashups that serve consumers who need to quickly identify an unknown pill.
- The Sunlight Foundation’s ‘Scout’ project consumes the Federal Register API to provide alerts and notifications for formal government action.
These are all examples of uses of public APIs, but there are private examples, too. Most notably, Amazon.com uses private APIs between their various internal departments, which makes their operations extensible. There are also hybrid models, with certain information made public and others sequestered for internal use or with specific partners.