NPR Launches API with Some Major Caveats

NPR today is making available to the public an API that allows anyone to “mash-up, re-use, and otherwise build upon” content created by the national radio network. The idea for the wide release of the API is to increase the spread of its digital material, and thus its legitimacy. So far, the public has only seen such material, be it text or audio or images, made available through its website and those of affiliate stations.

As NPR explains in its overview for the new release:
“…you can access the API by constructing a URL with parameters indicating what stories you want the API to return. The default format of the results is NPRML, a custom XML structure specifically designed to represent all of NPR’s digital content comprehensively. The API can also return results in RSS, MediaRSS, JSON, Atom and through HTML and JavaScript widgets (other formats are pending).”

Now, as many residing within the American landscape do recognize, NPR is an American standard and brand that appears to be fighting two major battles today. One concerns the label given by critics of its left-wing liberal slant, a description which, objectively speaking, is both rightly and wrongly exercised. The other is legitimacy. Mark Hopkins earlier this week waxed rhapsodic about the imminent demise of terrestrial radio, a market NPR has catered to fastidiously for several decades.

And while I imagine NPR is likely to linger for a while longer as an over-the-air source for news and entertainment, it’s clear that its existence on the Web does not carry with it the financial gravitas, as it were, to wholly replace what happens over the AM/FM dial in the U.S. It’s logical to assume the heads at NPR know this, and are proceeding with efforts to close the gap best they can, and sooner rather than later. The API seems to be one more experimentalist step in that direction.

Is the API technologically robust enough to make a sizable impact on NPR’s Web-based operations? Perhaps things will not be all that noticeable at first. NPR’s stipulation of the API’s “personal and non-commercial” use isn’t very conducive to a paradigm shift for the broadcaster, which may be what’s needed to help NPR continue on as it has for so many years. And much depends on users’ interest, which may not be very strong when all is said and done. But to go without an API would be a failure to follow progress on the Web, so today’s announcement, if nothing else, is NPR’s way of saying that it is moving with the tide.

What may be the most off-putting of things to do with the public API is its set of general guidelines and user rights and so forth. The Terms of Use agreement, for instance, states that “API users may use only a limited amount of content from the API.” This raises a wee flag in my mind. Also, the API is said to currently exclude things like NPR Blogs as well as some very popular shows like “Fresh Air,” “Car Talk,” “This American Life,” and “A Prairie Home Companion,” not to mention anything dated pre-1995, when was originally launched, nor any video-based content. Just a tad shortsighted, maybe?

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