The New York Times was the first major newspaper to take its cue from Google and open up its data via an API (which stands for application programming interface). In a nutshell, this allows developers to write programs that can automatically access the New York Times database, within certain limits, and use that data in mashups, etc. Now the Guardian newspaper in Britain has upped the ante: not only has it opened its data up via an API, but it has also done two things that the NYT has not — namely, it provides the full text of its articles to users of the API (while the Times restricts developers to an excerpt only) and it also allows the data to be used in for-profit ventures, while the Times restricts its data to non-profit purposes.
As Shafqat at NewsCred notes on his blog, these two differences are pretty important, and I would argue that the Guardian has really put its money where its mouth is in terms of turning its paper into a platform (to use the title of a blog post I wrote when the NYT came out with its open API). Not to denigrate what the Times has done at all, mind you — an API of any kind is a huge leap, and one that many newspapers likely wouldn’t have the guts to take, limits or no limits. But to provide full-text access to all Guardian news articles going back to 1999, and to allow all of this data and more to be used in profit-making ventures as well, takes the whole effort to another level entirely.
(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)
Being open — or at least wanting to appear open — seems to be gaining some traction: senior execs from LinkedIn, Flickr and SixApart have joined the Data Portability working group, the same one that representatives from Facebook, Plaxo and Google joined a couple of days ago. And according to TechCrunch UK, there are other moves afoot: Google, IBM and Verisign are said to be close to joining the group behind OpenID. One is designed to make it easier to move your data from place to place, and the other is aimed at making it easier to use a single sign-in for different services.
When I wrote about the Facebook and Plaxo news, I got some criticism in the comments and elsewhere for making too big a deal out of it. The companies in question were just joining a working group, many people said, not making any actual changes — and it’s true that such industry groups can become a little like the Bermuda Triangle, with good ideas circling in an endless spiral, unable to escape (there are some good tips on fake openness here).
Still, I think having them join is better than nothing. Marshall Kirkpatrick also notes in his post that these aren’t just deputy assistant coffee-fetchers from Google and LinkedIn and the other companies. Brad Fitzpatrick, the Google guy, was the creator of LiveJournal and is also involved with OpenID and Google’s OpenSocial effort. The Facebook representative is the guy behind Facebook Platform. Are they just joining as window dressing? I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it.
One more point while I’m writing about data portability. Like many others, I’ve written about this — and the Scoble affair — as a case of who “owns” the data. Ed “Freedom to Tinker” Felten makes a good point in this post, which is that no one actually “owns” this data in any real sense. It’s shared by people with companies, who often share it with other companies through APIs and so on. I think Ed’s point is that it isn’t really helpful (and could actually be dangerous) to think about it as “owning” that data.
This is pretty big news, it seems to me, after all of the back-and-forth about data being trapped inside Facebook — the social-networking site has joined the Data Portability Group, along with Plaxo and Google, and will now be helping come up with a standard for moving personal data into and out of different networks. For all the brouhaha about Scoble and what an attention hog he is, there was an important point in all of that, which was laid out quite well earlier today in a thoughtful post at GigaOm by my friend Alec Saunders of Iotum. Let’s hope this effort makes it easier to own your own data, and move freely from place to place.
Can Ian Rogers — who left grad school to tour with The Beastie Boys, and then later helped to run the company behind Winamp — turn Yahoo Music into something worth paying attention to? A tough assignment, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed, based on the presentation he gave at a music-industry confab in Aspen. The Yahoo Music executive has already made it clear that he has big ideas, and Mike Arrington says that he thinks something big could be coming from Yahoo.
If you read the entire post, however — and I encourage you to do so if you care about music online, even though it is fairly long — it becomes obvious that Rogers is talking about something more than just making Yahoo Music suck a little less (something he wrote about fairly eloquently in an earlier post, also based on a presentation he gave). It’s clear that he envisions a kind of open-source approach to music standards online, and that means not just doing away with DRM, but making it easier for music to be found and identified — and sold — wherever it exists.
In that context, Ian mentions a guy I have recently gotten to know: David Gratton, a Vancouver entrepreneur who founded Project Opus, a social-media venture that is working on an open music-identification standard called JAMM. (David is also the guy behind the MixxMaker music-sharing app for Facebook, which I wrote about yesterday). David’s vision seems to be the same as Ian’s: in a nutshell, make music of all kinds easier to find, tag and share online. Here’s hoping that one or the other (or both) of them succeed.
Is being “open” the new black? Now AT&T — jealous of all the free publicity that Verizon has gotten for opening up its network to any mobile device — is trying to get some mileage out of the idea too, by telling USA Today that it is more open than anyone else (unless you want to take your iPhone somewhere else, of course — they’re still pretty closed to that).
Of course, as Ryan Block at Engadget and Rafat Ali at MocoNews and Mike Masnick at Techdirt point out, the carrier hasn’t done anything to become more open; all it is referring to is the fact that GSM phones have a personal SIM card that can be taken out and put in any other phone (including an iPhone, as many Canadians have discovered to their delight), and that handset can then be used on the network. Presto — open. Nice try, AT&T.