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The API is interesting in that it depends on HTTP redirects to and from the identity provider Web site. This allows logon systems that depend on browser state, such as cookies or certificates. Parameters are passed back and forth through URL parameters, including digital signatures for validation. A great set of open source libraries in Perl, Python, Ruby and PHP from JanRain, makes integrating this API relatively painless.
One clever system for off-loading tedious Web development tasks is the Simple Storage Service (S3) from Amazon's Web Services. S3 lets you store and manage files on a Web server in Amazon's data center, and you can use the API to secure certain files from the public. S3 has both a REST and a Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) interface, and Amazon charges a few pennies for each gigabit of data stored or transferred.
S3 is a really convenient way to scale storage of data, and there are applications from simple backup services to rich Web applications. The photo-sharing service SmugMug, for example, uses S3 as the backend storage for all its images, saving the time and effort of provisioning dozens of Web servers.
In a similar vein to S3, Amazon has a distributed computing service called the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). EC2 is a Web service that lets you build virtual servers for any purpose – you get a Xen instance for each one – and turn them on or off as needed. It's a server farm rental service, expandable to as many servers as you need, controlled with a simple interface.
Amazon provides a set of command-line tools for the service, but it will be interesting to see how other tools integrate this service. Building the API into a server watchdogs, failover tools or load-balancing systems are some exciting applications. Although this service is still in beta, it has the capacity to change the way we build data centers.
One of the most tedious tasks in Web development is importing and exporting data to and from content management systems and other dynamic Web sites. The pioneering work in creating desktop user interfaces and command-line tools for publishing was with the Blogger, MetaWeblog and Movable Type APIs, but this work has been generalized and expanded for other kinds of Web sites to the newer Atom API 0.3.
Atom is a REST-like API that uses Post requests to create new resources on the target site, and Get, Put and Delete requests to manipulate existing pages. There's also an optional SOAP interface, although it seems to be only rarely supported. The Atom API is supported by many blogging services and a number of open source content management systems (CMS). The API's uptake has been slower than its sibling Atom feed standard (a replacement for RSS), but it's rapidly displacing proprietary blogging and posting APIs.
When Amazon's A9 search service and aggregator launched in 2004, the company took a new tack on search aggregation. Instead of running its own spiders, unilateral database licenses, or running screen scrapers on other search engines, the company developed and promoted an open standard API. Called OpenSearch, this simple REST-based API is a convenient back-channel for retrieving search results from a number of OpenSearch-enabled sites.