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Summary:

While newspapers like the New York Times are putting up paywalls, The Guardian in Britain is not only giving its content away to readers but to developers, too, through its open API. Developer Chris Thorpe says the idea is to turn the paper into a platform.

While some newspapers like the Times of London and the New York Times have either implemented or are expected to launch paywalls for their content, The Guardian in Britain has taken the exact opposite approach: Not only does it give its content away for free to readers, but through its “open platform” and API, it allows developers and companies to take its content as well, and do whatever they want with it — including building it into commercial applications. Are the higher-ups at the paper crazy? Not according to Chris Thorpe, The Guardian’s “developer advocate” and a member of the team that built the open platform and helps companies integrate it into their apps and services.

In an interview in Toronto on Monday, Thorpe said that the paper doesn’t want to charge its users for content, but instead wants to enable developers and companies to create businesses around that content and then partner with them. Unlike the New York Times, which restricts developers to only an excerpt of its content and doesn’t allow them to use it in commercial applications or services, The Guardian’s API provides full access to its content and allows developers and companies to use it even in revenue-generating applications.

In fact, “We not only say that you can use the content in a commercial application, we encourage it,” Thorpe said. “It gets our content to places where it wouldn’t be otherwise, and then we can build relationships with content partners around that.” The platform, which is still in the experimental stage, has attracted about 2,000 developers who have signed up for the API and created over 200 apps and web services. Platform developer Matt McAlister has called it an attempt to “weave The Guardian into the fabric of the Internet.”

Thorpe noted that the API — which he said will be coming out of beta soon — may be free, but it does come with strings attached. If you want the full text of articles to use in your app or service, you agree (by signing the licensing agreement) that The Guardian has the right to insert ads into the stream of content it sends you through the API. The paper is also working on partnerships with a number of outside companies and agencies that use content from the newspaper’s database as part of a their service or site, and some of those look to be closer to monetizing the paper’s own content better than The Guardian itself can.

For example, Thorpe said that some sites and services that are focused on a sport such as football will take The Guardian’s content related to a specific team and use that to build out their site. Using the same stories or content on The Guardian site isn’t worth much, because the newspaper doesn’t know when a diehard Arsenal fan visits the site, and therefore can’t serve them related ads. But a dedicated site for those fans can take that same content and monetize it much more effectively.

Thorpe also admits that The Guardian’s ownership structure — it’s owned by the Scott Trust — likely has something to do with the paper’s interest in an open API, and its willingness to provide its content to others despite the lack of any immediate return, since it can afford to think longer term rather than just focusing solely on quarterly earnings. The vision of the paper is to become the leading voice of liberal thought on the Internet, he said, and the newspaper’s leadership firmly believes that becoming an open platform is the best way to achieve that.

In the video embedded below, Thorpe talks briefly about the strategy behind the open API:

  1. Fascinating approach, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

    I wonder if The Guardian also offers developers the option to pay for content with no ads? Seems like it would be a total no-brainer…

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  2. matriakkachi Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    It sounds like a great way for dinosaur-like media like the newspaper to evolve in a graceful way toward new media. I hope it works out well!

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  3. A newspaper with an API, what a great idea. The Guardian is fast becoming a favourite news source for me, especially for some of their podcasts.

    Very interestig article.

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  4. Great to see old media embrace new ideas and concepts. I am sure they will do very well by opening their API. Great to see this initiative

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  5. I guess they can do this becaue The Guardian is basically a non-profit – it has consistently lost money almost since inception and only survives due to cross funding from other profitable publications in the Guardian Media Group.

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    1. I very much doubt The Guardian has lost money since 1821. As I remember it turns a nice profit, but the same cannot be said of The Observer.

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      1. WIKI: “The Guardian has been consistently loss-making. The National Newspaper division of GMG, which also includes The Observer, reported operating losses of £49.9m in 2006, up from £18.6m in 2005.[73] The paper is therefore heavily dependent on cross-subsidisation from profitable companies within the group, including Auto Trader and the Manchester Evening News.”

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  6. Interesting – would be even more interesting with links to some of the “over 200 apps and web services” created using the API.

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  7. What a brilliant idea. Think if the New York Time or some other large media company did the same thing? The’ve missed the boat while the Guardian is pushing the envelope and leading.

    The Guardian is one very smart organization for being able to be so forward thinking. Love it!

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  8. [...] entrevista com Chris Thorpe, um dos evangelistas da plataforma aberta do Guardian, é uma boa amostra do [...]

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  9. [...] Guardian Says It Needs to Become an Open Platform [...]

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  10. [...] GigaOM: While some newspapers like the Times of London and the New York Times have either implemented or [...]

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