You Are Listening To New York: Reflections on Open APIs

The Digital Fellows workshops here at the GC have far exceeded my expectations of what a 2-hour seminar tends to be. There’s just only so much technical material that can be absorbed in such a small window of time. That being said, the real strength of these workshops comes from the capable Digital Fellows leading the discussions, and the superb, thorough documentation they provide.

Out of the workshops I’ve thus far attended (Server Architecture, Introduction to Webscraping, etc), I’ve found the Lexicon to be the most useful, as it touched, very briefly, on a range of DH tools and approaches. In fact, it was so successful in communicating an overview of the emerging field, that it has thrown my dataset/final project planning for a loop (for another blog post).

One fairly important aspect of DH project development glossed over during the Lexicon was the importance of open APIs. I wanted to share a project that uses open APIs to wonderful effect. The “You Are Listening To” project utilizes open APIs to curate an immersive user experience centered around a mashup of ambient music and real time transmissions of police radars and airwave communications from cities around the world. Check out this link for You Are Listening to New York.

What I like so much about this site is it’s simplicity. It’s an elegant digital curation of various streaming media. When you load the page there’s a javascript file that pulls in an audio stream from radioreference.com, which provides the police radio audio feed. It also pulls up a soundcloud list that has been screened by the site’s creator Eric Eberhardt to ensure that it only incorporates, ambient, dreamy soundscapes that contrast with and compliment the police scanner audio. It also loads the page’s background image (of the user’s chosen city), which is pulling from Flickr’s API. This is all legal, free, and only possible because each of the companies made an effort to provide access to their site through simple web APIs.

There’s also a ton of additional metrics in the “i” info dropdown to the website. It looks like it’s accessing  twitter and reddit feeds, a geotracking tool to provide metrics about and for listeners, some google reference info, and various news trackers.

Have a look!