TimesOpen 2.0 Event Covers Geo and Mobile

The New York Times has been in the forefront of experimenting with open technologies for journalism, with its varied news APIs (our directory currently contains 10 New York Times APIs) in the areas of news remixing, civic data, social activity, and niche topics. Now the Gray Lady is focusing on developers with a series of themed conferences.

The newspaper lists 13 APIs, from those related to its content to those more on the "data journalism" side of things. As Derek Gottfrid of The Times Developer Network has said, "We see our site as more than just a source of news and information: it’s a Platform on which news and information become building blocks."

Last week the Times inaugurated a series of events called TimesOpen 2.0 at their headquarters in New York that will culminate in a Hack Day in December. The first session's theme was Geo and Mobile, and brought together diverse participants for an interdisciplinary mix.

Matt Kelly of the Facebook Developer Network outlined the new Facebook Places functionality and its read API, which allows developers to access check-ins (and friends check-ins). The API will be enhanced at some point with read/write capabilities to allow the posting of check-ins, with Integration from other major location services such as Yelp, Booyah, Foursquare and Gowalla. Commercial apps that use the new API include the travel rewards service TopGuest and Zenbe's iPhone app Blacktop that organizes check-ins into trips.

The Twilio system and API were demonstrated by John Britton who, in a feat of live demo programming, commissioned a new phone number, set up an instant conferencing system for the attendees, responded to their messages and called everyone back with a custom message. All done in a matter of minutes and with a couple dozen lines of PHP. John pointed to services built on the Twilio API such as Venmo's social payment app and Group.me's private text message chat rooms. There are 82 Twilio mashups in our directory.

Mano Marks of Google described the current state of Google Maps APIs, now used by 350,000 websites and services worldwide. Recognizing the shift to mobile access, the Maps JavaScript API V3 was designed for mobile browsers and is 3-5 times faster than the previous version. Google also supplies native mapKits for Apple and Android app development, and Mano notes that a hybrid app, where a native app calls up a map in a browser view, allows for app discovery within the stores while taking advantage of the extra features and more rapid updates of the browser API. He also showed the FusionTables dataset-sharing product which has its own API.

Public radio news director John Keefe of WNYC brought the discussion to practical journalism and low-tech initiatives, describing a one-day design process of forging connections between news professionals and the communities that don't normally listen to public radio. He accompanied journalists into a community in SW Detroit, (and another in Miami), for a one-day project of brainstorming, prototyping, and connecting with residents - asking about their issues and prompting them to serve as citizen sources to the newsroom through text messages. This spawned an idea to have the residents text the license plates of trucks that were illegally using their streets, which led to a news investigation and some positive changes. Along with the side benefit of getting the journalists out of their increasingly tech-driven newsrooms.

With these conferences the Times Developer Network has adhered to the open web ethos by focusing on other company's initiatives and encouraging API cross-blending. The lively encounters will continue through the fall, with sessions devoted to Big Data, Open Government, the Real-Time Web, and the Hack Day on December 4th.

Be sure to read the next News Services article: USA Today to Throw Open its Data This Month