Web 2.0 Expo: NPR's APIs and Content Strategies

by October 12, 2011

In his NPR Everywhere: Even better APIs and Content Strategies talk at Web 2.0 Expo in New York, Zach Brand described how the thinking behind and success of NPR’s API. Here’s my notes from his talk:

  • COPE is the concept of “create once, publish anywhere”. Flexible content is the realization of COPE and can be accessed everywhere through APIs. APIs are
  • Don’t attempt to build one giant system fro your API, focus on core uses instead. For NPR this was access to stories.
  • Think about your content management & presentation tools as separate. Your CMS needs to allow you to publish out to many places not just one presentation format.
  • Understand your atoms: stories are the atoms for NPR. This helps focus on the right things instead of building the “one” system for everything.
  • It is better to be incomplete than inaccurate. Don’t get lazy with the content you put into an API. Content within an API can spread really quickly. Make sure there is a way to mark it as updated and deleted.
  • The life of a flexible story at NPR: starts at CMS (thoughtful storage of content), goes to API (rendered as XML), delivery service (distribution), and finally the various presentation formats (web, apps, partners, etc).
  • With their new API, NPR has been able to do more with the same amount of resources. New projects now just focus on presentation layer.
  • Using this approach, they were able to double their digital audience in a 12 month period primarily by building mobile experiences.
  • Buidling on top of the API also allowed them to create an iPad app in just 30 days.
  • There is a two-fold cost to building an API. Part one is building it, part two is learning how to use it. Early on, NPR did not use their API much Now it serves over 3 billion stores. API was so successful it needed to be re-architected.
  • To get flexible content you not only need new tools, you also need people to understand the tools and how they will be used. NPR had to train editors to write content that would work even if links could not be rendered (publish everywhere).
  • To support images in their API, NPR created a new image tool built on top of Image Magic. Each image in a story can be cropped by editors to different ratios and sizes. These are now available in the API so programs can select what they need.
  • Ingesting content from other stations has been hard: not structured with rights management; contributors have to adopt data and metadata structure (topics are pain point); performance & uptime is 3 times more important for ingest; working with every partner is a huge investment.
  • Make sure you do versioning of APIs so you can make updates without breaking people’s existing use of your services.