Like Words? You'll Love These 2 APIs

Desktop word processing software, such as Microsoft Word, features powerful spelling and grammar tools that help writers catch mistakes. Thanks to standards-based web services, online word processing tools are starting to catch up to the desktop competition. Two APIs, Wordnik and After the Deadline, give developers powerful new tools to aid writers with spelling, context, and grammar.

If the first dictionary was invented after the Internet was created, it might look something like Wordnik, which bills itself as "a place for all the words, and everything known about them." Wordnik allows users to look up definitions, add new words to their online database, and provides example sentences culled from the Internet. Unlike many online dictionaries, Wordnik's content can also be accessed through an API (see our Wordnik API profile for details).

The Wordnik blog describes why an API makes sense for an online word directory:

Wordnik has amassed an incredible amount of data... one of our core principles is that you shouldn't have to come to any particular web site to learn about words: the word data should come to you wherever you are.

Wordnik's RESTful API allows developers to look up definitions, display the use of words in example sentences, and return data about how frequently the word appears in Wordnik's corpus. The Wordnik API also gives developers access to an autocomplete Function, and both a "random word" and a "word of the day" listing. Data for each function is accessed by GET request, and data can be returned in either XML or JSON format. The API is still in alpha development, and access is currently limited. Requests for access to the API can be made using this online form.

After the Deadline

After the Deadline is an English language spelling and grammar checking API (our After the Deadline API profile). Already available as a plugin for Wordpress and TinyMCE, this open source project attempts to provide web based access to the same type of language support found in desktop word processors such as Microsoft Word. The system goes beyond simple spellchecking - After the Deadline checks style, grammar, and common misuses of words, and it can even provide explanations for its suggestions.

Raphael Mudge, developer of After the Deadline, wrote about the advantages of using a web based API for word processing on the 2009 WordCamp NYC blog:

The web is not ready to replace the word processor yet. The word processor still has something that we don’t. One of the great powers of the word processor is its magical ability to check my writing and tell me it’s OK... After the Deadline is a software service. Since it’s open source you’re not tied to any vendor and you have access to the code to run your own server.

The After the Deadline API accepts input through both POST and GET requests. Currently the After the Deadline API allows developers to spell and grammar check a collection of text, or simply return the amount of errors that the text contains. The API accepts either POST or GET requests, but data is only returned in XML format. Developers must sign up for an API Key by creating a new user account.

As the examples above indicate, more and more software features traditionally found in desktop offerings are being implemented as Web Service models. For other web services that deal with knowledge and data, check out our huge list of reference APIs.

Be sure to read the next Reference article: Wordnik: Mashup the Dictionary, Win Money