17 clever APIs for every developer whim

Connect with these Internet APIs to add some crucial data, a helpful feature, or a user-pleasing frill to your application

The poets like to say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Fantasy writers say the journey to the magical land lies through the door hidden in the back of the closet. On the Internet, the portal is the API. The programmers just spell out the required parameters in the correct JSON or XML format and the effect is just the same. The right path will take you to amazing places. There are fascinating and very useful treasure troves of data out there and the APIs are the way to get them.

The APIs began as a mechanism that let computers talk to other computers but along the way they’ve evolved into a large ecosystem of their own. Developers don’t need to write everything themselves because there’s often an API that’s waiting to deliver the information in a form that’s usually pretty close to what you might need. They’re building blocks, like Lincoln Logs or Lego bricks for creating applications.

Along the way, the major companies on the web like Microsoft and Google have stretched their tentacles into the world of the APIs. Some of these are just pathways to interact with their major products and the APIs are the best way to send your users an email or a spreadsheet. Others are information sources, delivering maps, directions, or other content and saving you the trouble of building your own database from scratch.

The dominant portals, though, are far from the only game around. For every big Internet company, there are several smaller ones that are competing by offering something deeper, stranger, or simply different. All of these smaller APIs — some immensely practical, some frivolous and fun — are also real options for supporting your app.

Whether they deliver the crucial bit of information, or just some extra frosting for the cake, these 17 APIs are some of the best ways to grab the bits your users might want.

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