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Guardian Launches Open-Platform API Developer Progamme; Will It Make Money?

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Guardian News & Media is opening access to its digital infrastructure by launching a series of APIs that allow developers to create apps, sites and online tools using its journalism and data. The APIs are being released for free. It’s part of an effort by the company to cement its credentials with the digital-developer community, increase the reach of Guardian journalism and ultimately improve Digital director Emily Bell said at the launch of the Open Platform: “We are opening everything we do through APIs and handing it over to you, which I would say is a big risk, but I’m sure it will pay back multiple dividends.” — previously Guardian Unlimited — published one million items between its launch in 1999 and the end of 2008, and the move means that Guardian News & Media is opening up access to all of it. Disclosure: paidContent:UK’s parent company, ContentNext, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media.

The moves follows similar efforts from digital businesses like Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO), all of which have opened their infrastructure to developers through APIs; the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) has released a series of APIs through its Open project, but The Guardian says it is the first newspaper to offer all its content, including full-text RSS feeds, for free. There’s a Content API and a Data API, though developers have to apply for a key to use the former, which shows how cautiously the content is being handled even as it is being freely distributed across the web. GNM then wants to take the best apps and tools developers make and use them online; it has already been doing some of that since a “hack day” developer event last year. More after the jump…

Will it make any money? The principle aim of this is to increase engagement with developers, improve the way content is used and help spread The Guardian‘s liberal journalism far and wide, as per the aims of the GNM’s parent company, the Scott Trust. But the company wants developers to join its own ad networks and to enter revenue-sharing agreements with particularly good apps. The policy is on a “case-by-case” basis right now, GNM head of technology Mike Bracken told me: “It’s still in beta and we’re figuring a lot of this out… if you are a blogger, you can take the content and use it, that’s fine. The model is that if you make big money from using it, we would like a bit of the revenue share to help to pay for it.” Developers don’t have to enter into a commercial agreement straight away, but the user terms state that they are required to “join our ad network in the future”.

Syndication threat: Newspapers make a significant amount of revenue from their words and pictures being purchased and used in other papers and magazines; The Guardian has syndication deals with papers in the US and Germany and also sells content on an ad-hoc basis. Can’t these customers just use the API? Bracken says if a major newspaper applied for an API key, it would be a syndication-department matter. GNM’s rival publishers are, however, free to use the data its journalists have chased and compiled; asked whether the team minded rivals taking its content, Bell answered, without naming names: “They do already.” The content API will syndicate just data from the Guardian and selected partners — not information the Guardian pays for, such as PA or Reuters news feeds or weather information.