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Its most basic configuration is a discovery system – using HTML headers – to find search engines for sites and determine the order and names of URL parameters for sending a REST-like search request with HTML output. A more sophisticated level returns an Atom feed of multiple results, leaving it up to the client to display or analyze each result. OpenSearch has been integrated into the search bars for Mozilla Firefox 2.0 and Internet Explorer 7.0, which has given the standard a considerable boost.
The Web itself is a pretty impressive data-interchange mechanism, but it operates at a coarse-grained level of files. Exchanging pieces of objects, structured objects, or collections of objects can be kind of tricky, and marking up metadata can also be hard. There have been a number of efforts to make it easier to interchange marked-up data, such as Google's GData and Yahoo's MediaRSS. At the launch of its new Vox blogging service, Six Apart also launched a new media-exchange API, the Open Media Profile.
The Open Media Profile is based on OpenSearch's REST-like interface, but adds key output extensions for exchanging richer data types than Atom feeds usually handle. It supports embedded and linked objects and licensing metadata. Although its data interchange tools are better than competing standards, it lacks the unification of data exchange and update found in GData. There's still not a clear lead in this area.
With almost 6 million Wikipedia articles in all the various languages, managing the corpus of wiki work from Wikimedia Foundation is a huge task. Programmatic interfaces to MediaWiki and other wikis has always been through scraping HTML pages, and some “bot” creators have raised it to a fine art. But the development of a new API for MediaWiki Web sites – including Wikitravel, Wiktionary, and WikiNews – will make that considerably easier and less error-prone.
The MediaWiki API is a REST query mechanism that returns XML, YAML or JSON results. Although it's currently read-only, existing mechanisms for writing articles still work. Other wiki engines, including SocialText and PbWiki, are also building APIs. A nascent cross-engine standard, Amo, might provide a unified API for wikis the way that Atom has for blogs and CMSs.
There's an important future for this kind of quick, configurable widget that offloads tedious tasks for Web site developers. The Microapps project is building some similar open source tools for Web features such as tagging and search. Hopefully more large-scale application components will be delivered as Web APIs in the future.
One feature that all of these APIs have in common is their helpful, even evangelical, developer documentation. At the sites in the Related Links section, you'll find instructions and sample code for integrating this powerful functionality into your own Web application. Instead of rewriting, next time give a Web API a try.