WHY WOULD THE TIMES DO THIS? It's part of the Times' content and traffic generation strategy, said spokeswoman Stacy Green. "We want to open up New York Times and leverage the creativity of readers and developers." The company announced it would begin to do this in May and last week unveiled the first API, one having to do with The New York Times' election data. (A movie API is in beta.) Early reviews of the API have been good. "Obviously someone over there is pretty committed to making this work," said Jeff Bates, founder of Slashdot.
WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO WITH THE TIMES' FIRST API? One sample application on the Times' site marries a campaign-finance API with a Google-chart API to create a bar graph that gives at-a-glance data about donations to candidates in certain ZIP codes. That data is already public via the Federal Election Commission, but the Times has sliced and diced it into useful patterns. As the Times' developer site explains: "Instead of poring over monthly filings or searching a disclosure database, you can use the Times Campaign Finance API to quickly retrieve totals for a particular candidate, see aggregates by ZIP code or state, or get details on a particular donor."
WILL IT MAKE MONEY? It's hard to say. There's no revenue strategy attached to it, outside of it potentially driving an audience that's monetized through traditional online advertising means. If it's deemed a success, the Times will experiment with advertising, but as it stands, there's no great ad model for APIs.