Category Archives: Public Radio

A chat on NPR APIs, mobile apps, connected cars, and digital content

I was recently interviewed by Lee Dumond (@leedumond), Nick Berardi (@nberardi), and Dustin Davis(@prgrmrsunlmtd) for the latest podcast. It was an interesting conversation in content syndication, app development, and using APIs to supercharge a content and platform strategy. 48 minutes is big commitment though, so I timecoded our discussion topics and added a few links for context. My favorites are bolded.

You can  listen here.  The audio is a bit choppy because of Skype difficulties. If you hear the same thing mentioned more than once, it’s probably one of our retakes.

Update 10/23/12

Nick Berardi asked a really important question on document databases vs. relational databases, and I didn’t answer it as well as his question deserved.

Nick noted the trend that organizations tended to have one relational database but that the document DB trend was “pick the best one for the job.” This is a hugely important insight, and there are two intertwined reasons: the intrinsic nature of the tools themselves, and the shift away from traditional client-server architecture to SOA/API-based architecture.

Document databases have so much variability between one another that you really have to pick the best tool based on the capabilities you need vs. the tradeoffs you’re willing to make. They differ by query capability, ACID compliance, clustering, retrieval speed, etc. On the other hand, traditional SQL databases might have 95% overlap, and you’d think that would make it easier to switch between them, but that last 5% has been so relied upon traditionally that it made lock-in the logical choice. Proprietary SQL syntax, stored procedures, or in the case of SQL Server DTS have traditionally been important features for querying and transforming data, and if you wanted to take advantage of them, you needed homogenous architecture.

That’s a good segue to the transition to data services — in our case, RESTful APIs. With standard interfaces you can untether  yourself from uniform infrastructure. Your data services may not actually run as fast as if you were syncing databases with proprietary services, but you’ve given yourself more flexibility to pick the best tool and move quickly. Every shop has its favorite tools, but we’ve already used both CouchDB and Redis on small internal services and can see us picking up another document DB here and there as needed.

Beyond flexibility, there’s a lot to be said about developer happiness and productivity. Both come from exploring new tools and picking the right tool for the job. That’s worth a lot. The NPR API with Javaun Moradi

2:00 – Is NPR a truly digital system or a radio system with a digital presence?

  • My spiel on public radio vs. NPR.

4:14 – Getting 100+ local stations into the API

7:20 – What kind of APIs are under the hood in a mobile app?

9:50 – The challenges of streaming audio to mobile apps

13:00 – How has the API changed over the years….

  • Changed the way we write REST APIs
  • Moving at the speed of business and avoiding becoming big IT
  • ZaPHPa – a micro framework written by Irakli Nadareishvili and other members of our team
  • Story API permissions

16:40 – How do you decide when to write a new API?

19:40 – How do you keep up with documentation.

20:55 – Technology: hosting and programming languages

23:00 – Would we stay on PHP? How do we get more API speed?

25:50-  What is this drupal project?

29:00 – ElasticSearch + Document database.

  • We had a *lot* of retakes around document databases.
  • Besides speed of retrieval and flexibility, JSON is increasingly important to us.

31:15 – More on NoSQL databases

  • I forgot to mention we’ve also used Redis.

32:42 – The future of connected cars. Will there be a standard among manufacturers?

  • Will it be driven by smartphones like iOS and Android or by the manufacturers.

NPR Launches API to Open Up its Content

This morning, the NPR online team launched the NPR API, or Application Programming Interface, to make NPR content freely and publicly available.

So what is an API and why should you care? From a technology perspective, an API is a channel that allows one application (such as a website) to share information and procedures with another website or application. A perfect example is a Google Map mashup. Any website or blog can embed a Google Map and plot their own data on top of it; for example, Trulia plots homes for sale in DC on a Google Map.

From the larger perspective of freedom of information, an API is a much bigger idea. It means that our content can appear anywhere, in almost any format. Anyone with an idea and some basic web skills can select, repurpose, and embed our content on the web, on a desktop computer, or even on a handheld device. Fans of David Sedaris, NPR Election coverage, or Ketzel Levine’s Talking Plants no longer have to search all over our website to find their favorite content. Audio, text, and photos can now come to them now as an embeddable blog widget, a Facebook application, or any other format they can imagine. I should mention that only a few of these widgets exist so far, but the API is out there, so it’s only a matter of time before people start building them.

The UK Guardian and BBC have experimented with very limited APIs. The BBC makes available feeds of short program descriptions and its program schedule, but it does not make its full content available. Back in May, the New York Times announced that it would be making all of its content publicly available via an API. As far as I know, NPR is the first major media organization to launch an API to make all of its content available.

NPR’s Zach Brand and Daniel Jacobson were the leaders of the project, and here are the full credits :

There were a ton of contributors to this new API with the primary technical architect being Harold Neal. Other major contributors include Joanne Garlow, Jason Grosman, Tony Yan, Ivan Lazarte, Stephanie Oura, Ben Hands, Shain Miley, Lindsay Mangum, Sugirtha Solai, Todd Welstein and Vida Logan, and others.

‘Mornings with NPR’ – My new favorite blog

Each morning, Alessandra Olanow chooses an NPR radio story to illustrate in tongue-in-cheek fashion.

as a morning practice I listen to npr and do a little sketch on one of the stories

It’s a really simple and unique idea, and she does it extremely well. Alessandra already has a following who listens to the radio and tries to guess which story she’ll choose.

You can also receive her illustrations as a daily email newsletter through feedblitz.

Here’s one from April 14: “too many boys: demographic crisis looms in china”

'too many boys: demographic crisis looms in china'. Illustration by Alessandra Olanow

Illustration by Alessandra Olanow

‘Get My Vote’ Website Launches

The NPR Digital Media team just went Beta with a new social media site to give individual voters a chance to share their personal views on how a candidate can get their vote.  The site is live here:  The site is open and anyone can join and upload their point of view as audio, video, or text. 

The site is the brainchild of Andy Carvin, one of my NPR coworkers and a well-known evangelist of social media. NPR’s election unit will be covering personal commentaries uploaded onto Get My Vote throughout the rest of our election coverage. Andy gives many more details about the site, its origins, and plans for NPR and PBS member stations on his latest blog post.

NPR will Broadcast/Webcast Live from SXSW 2008

NPR is returning to Austin for South by Southwest 2008, and this time NPR Music be broadcasting and web streaming live music from the event — including R.E.M.’s first appearance at SXSW on March 12. Other performers will include My Morning Jacket, Vampire Weekend, and Yo La Tengo.

NPR Music will also be on-scene conducting interviews, and Bob Boilen of All Songs Considered will be hosting much of the broadcast. Carrie Brownstein will also be participating in a blogger panel at the event.

If you haven’t checked out our new music site that launched in November 2007, it’s an outstanding non-commercial destination to discover new music and artists and listen to live studio sessions and interviews.

More updates and concert schedules will be posted at the NPR SXSW 2008 page.