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15.15 Mashing It Up — Leveraging Evolving Web APIs

The next step in this evolution came with the arrival of richer Web APIs — especially ones that defined a clean client/server separation. In this respect, the world of Web APIs is a somewhat mixed bag in that many Web sites equate a Web API with a JS-based API that can be exclusively invoked from within a Web-Browser run-time. The issue with that type of API binding is that the only runtime that is supported is a full-blown Web browser; but the arrival of native mobile apps has actually proven a net positive in encouraging sites to create a cleaner separation. Emacspeak has leveraged these APIs to create Emacspeak front-ends to many useful services, here are a few:

  1. Minibuffer completion for Google Search using Google Suggest to provide completions.
  2. Librivox for browsing and playing free audio books.
  3. NPR for browsing and playing NPR archived programs.
  4. BBC for playing a wide variety of streaming content available from the BBC.
  5. A Google Maps front-end that provides instantaneous access to directions and Places search.
  6. Access to Twitter via package twittering-mode.

And a lot more than will fit this margin! This is an example of generalizing the concept of a mashup as seen on the Web with respect to creating hybrid applications by bringing together a collection of different Web APIs. Another way to think of such separation is to view an application as a head and a body — where the head is a specific user interface, with the body implementing the application logic. A cleanly defined separation between the head and body allows one to attach different user interfaces i.e., heads to the given body without any loss of functionality, or the need to re-implement the entire application. Modern platforms like Android enable such separation via an Intent mechanism. The Web platform as originally defined around URLs is actually well-suited to this type of separation — though the full potential of this design pattern remains to be fully realized given today’s tight association of the Web to the Web Browser.


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