NPR's Open Content Strategy : Inside Major media organizations are still primarily using RSS-based methods for content syndication. NPR's assessment of the marketplace, however, suggests that the future for content producers is to open up as much content as possible through APIs.


NPR's Open Content Strategy

It has been several weeks since my last post on the goals and challenges of launching NPR's API. I still intend to fill out the story in the coming weeks/months.

I will start up again by talking about my recent presentation at Mashery's API Conference last week. The conference itself was primarily focused on the business of APIs. In my presentation, I mainly discussed NPR's goals for opening up an API along with some of the challenges we faced leading up to the launch.

As NPR reviewed the landscape of content syndication, we found that there were quite a few APIs already in the marketplace. Most of them, however, belong to content aggregators (eg. Google, Yahoo!, etc.), user-generated content sites (eg. Flickr, Wikipedia, etc.), and some e-commerce sites (eg. eBay, Amazon, etc.). There were surprisingly few comprehensive APIs from major media organizations. Some organizations, like DayLife, CBS and BBC, offered APIs, but these limited in a variety of ways.

Mostly, these major media organizations were syndicating their content through RSS or extended RSS, such as Podcasts or MediaRSS. This approach has been surprisingly effective - what I call "Really Successful Syndication". It is successful because RSS is simple, widely adopted in the marketplace, and succeeds in driving traffic back to the site. The major problems with RSS are the same things that make it really successful. That is, in the current marketplace, RSS now stands for "Really Stingy Syndication" because it does not contain very much real content. Instead, it provides enough content to drive traffic back to the source, embracing the "lock-down" model of content.

The marketplace is changing dramatically, though, and people have destinations to which they are attached. They go to Facebook, MySpace, etc. and expect to find content there. Content providers will have to put their content on these sites through widgets and other means of distribution. If the users of Facebook, for example, find the content they want on Facebook, then they are less likely to leave Facebook to get more content (unless the user has a keen interest in a specific content provider). As a result, the richer the content is on Facebook, the more likely the user identifies your brand as a trusted news source. So, RSS is ok only if no other providers offer richer content. But it is only a matter of time before the richer content is there...

Because of these changes in the marketplace, NPR decided to release a comprehensive API of all of our content that we have rights to redistribute. If our content is truly open, it will enable users to mash it up, keep it relevant to them, and share it with new audiences in places where those people are. Although is still critical to our strategy, we can no longer rely exclusively on the site as a way to reach people.

There were two other major factors in our decision. First, it is critically important for NPR to provide content and services to our Member stations. The API will enable stations to get NPR content on their sites. We also plan to offer local station content through the API, which will provide a local/national view of content to the users. The second major influence in our decision was NPR's Mission to "create a more informed public". By offering both local and national content in our API, enabling users to mash it up and use it in ways that we have not thought of or don't have the resources to execute, we hope to reach and inform new audiences.

Once we decided to release an API, there were several questions that we needed to answer. First and foremost, we needed to establish what our target audiences for the API would be. They are as follows:

  • End-users and other web developers (These users can post content to blogs as well as create innovative ways of using NPR content)
  • NPR's Digital Media team (NPR Product and Project Managers can improve their products using the API without a lot of effort from NPR Developers)
  • NPR Member Stations
  • Content aggregators and NPR's business partners

Serving each of these audiences through the API enables us to seamlessly integrate with them in such a way that it requires very little involvement from NPR's development staff.

In the slides (attached below) from the conference, I have provided some examples of how these audiences are using the API.

    We will be discussing more of our challenges in later posts.