The poets like to say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Fantasy writers say the journey to the magical land lies through the door hidden in the back of the closet. On the Internet, the portal is the API. The programmers just spell out the required parameters in the correct JSON or XML format and the effect is just the same. The right path will take you to amazing places. There are fascinating and very useful treasure troves of data out there and the APIs are the way to get them.
The APIs began as a mechanism that let computers talk to other computers but along the way they’ve evolved into a large ecosystem of their own. Developers don’t need to write everything themselves because there’s often an API that’s waiting to deliver the information in a form that’s usually pretty close to what you might need. They’re building blocks, like Lincoln Logs or Lego bricks for creating applications.
Along the way, the major companies on the web like Microsoft and Google have stretched their tentacles into the world of the APIs. Some of these are just pathways to interact with their major products and the APIs are the best way to send your users an email or a spreadsheet. Others are information sources, delivering maps, directions, or other content and saving you the trouble of building your own database from scratch.
The dominant portals, though, are far from the only game around. For every big Internet company, there are several smaller ones that are competing by offering something deeper, stranger, or simply different. All of these smaller APIs — some immensely practical, some frivolous and fun — are also real options for supporting your app.
Whether they deliver the crucial bit of information, or just some extra frosting for the cake, these 17 APIs are some of the best ways to grab the bits your users might want.
IEX is a stock exchange developed to minimize the power of flash trading applications while providing fast matching and execution for both buyers and sellers of publicly traded stocks. The free API provides a JSON packet filled with price quotes and spreads from major markets like the NYSE, CBOE, and Nasdaq. There are also data feeds with historical data and the latest sales. You can build simple apps for tracking investments or more sophisticated trading tools for searching out the best prices.
If you’re building out a game with an internal economy or creating a network of gadgets that report details and transactions, the odds are you’re going to need to maintain a ledger. WalletAPI tracks deposits, withdrawals and transfers between accounts. In go the transactions and WalletAPI does all of the double-entry accounting.
People worry about the weather and OpenWeatherMap is one of the simpler ways to offer temperature, precipitation, wind direction, and more to your users. They gather data from major national government agencies as well as small backyard hobbyists. The free tier offers basic numbers about the current weather and a simple forecast. Paid tiers deliver better maps, longer forecasts, and some historical data.
Some sites cover everything. API Football goes deep, delivering roster decisions, schedules, and scores from more than 500 leagues around the world. (And that means Americans should realize the word “football” translates to “soccer.”)
Tracking the flow of capital through the startup community is a bit easier using the Crunchbase API, which takes a startup’s name and returns crucial information about the leadership, the funding sources, and their progress. It’s kind of like API Football, but the numbers are about Internet companies instead of teams.
If fake email addresses or spammers are a challenge, try Check Mail. This simple API will take one look at an address and return at least six different pieces of information. Is the domain valid? Does it have MX records that indicate it is accepting email? Is the domain on any blacklists for spammers? Is the domain known for offering temporary email addresses? From there, you can make up your mind what to do with the address. A few tests a month are free but tiers for larger volumes start at $50 per month.
The cynics may fuss about spending billions to explore outer space when there are so many troubles on earth, but they can’t complain about the free information available from the space program’s API. Photographs from the explorers on Earth, Mars, and beyond are available. The real fun, though, is fiddling with the parameters because some of the APIs use values that are literally otherworldly. The photos from Mars, for instance, are indexed by the time they were taken, but the time is measured in “sol,” which is the day as defined by the sun’s rising and setting on Mars. The paranoid can watch for impacts on earth by tracking NEOs (Near Earth Objects).
U.S. Census Bureau
The actual counting happens only every 10 years, but the U.S. Census stays open all of the time. The Census APIs deliver numbers that measure how communities shift from year to year and decade to decade. They count people and businesses and a few other things like health insurance. This raw data can be essential for planning where to expand or where to prospect for new customers.
Some mail messages are obviously spam. Some are clearly not. But many lie in a netherworld in between and this is a challenge when communicating with customers. Companies that send a polite number of notices are welcomed by their users. Those that send too many repetitive messages start to be seen as spam.
Mailrecipe helps you deliver the message with a bit of self-restraint to protect your reputation. Their API limits email messages to one a day. If two of your marketing teams target the same list, only one message gets delivered. It’s a simple, straightforward approach.
Sure the computer team’s first instinct is to send electronic mail but sometimes the old paper version printed on dead trees works best. Lob specializes in printing and shipping messages — postcards, letters, or bills — the old fashioned way. Your welcome letter or past due notice goes into the API, along with the addresses, and then Lob prints them and sends them out.
Do you want a cheap airplane ticket? Who doesn’t? Skyscanner tracks the current prices for several thousand flights all through one API. You can use this to add up-to-the-minute prices to travelogues or other content. The API also offers car rental prices for the parts of the trip on the ground.
Does this sentence sound mean and angry? Did your boss ask you to start filtering social media posts and clean up the comments on your website? Maybe you just want to watch your own language? Twinword bundles together a number of text analytics including sentiment analysis, word difference scoring, category recommendation, and about a dozen others. In goes raw letters and out comes structured data about the words and their meanings.
The social media maelstrom is often full of sound and fury, and telling the difference between what’s real and what’s a bot can be hard. Botometer studies the behavior and then assigns a score that grows larger as the behavior on Twitter grows more suspicious. It’s not as cool as that machine that Deckard used on Rachael in Bladerunner, but then what is?
The binge-enabling streaming services love to cut off the credits from the end of TV shows, but they’re often snipping the best parts. Dedicated TV lovers want to know the names of everyone associated with the shows and that means the names of the bit actors and even some of the crew. TVMaze is a personalized TV guide that offers all of this data through an API including show summaries, episode summaries, and cast and crew information. The data structure includes photos, birthdays, and, alas, deathdays.
Facial recognition algorithms depend upon identifying a constellation of points on the face like the position of the corners of the eyes. The FaceMark API takes your image and returns the coordinates of these hot spots. It’s not just giving you a simple answer; it’s giving you the data for peering inside the recognition operation.
There’s nothing more thrilling or dispiriting than tracking the spectacular ascents or cataclysmic plunges of cryptocurrencies. CoinAPI makes it simpler to follow the prices with one API that gathers information from the major exchanges. There’s plenty of historical price information as well.
Memes are everywhere and Imgflip makes it simpler to recaption your favorite images with your words. The API automates the process. Will memes replace long form articles written by writers? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
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