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The importance of an API

May 16, 2010

The importance of an API

The following is my answer to the question “Rod Begbie, what are all the reasons you want a systematic way to retrieve your answers from Quora?” on Quora

Off the bat, it’s important to state: I like Quora. I’ve had tremendous fun on the site, have learned a bunch, and gotten to gather some top notch insight from smart folks.

But the other day, I found myself spending 10 minutes writing an answer on Quora, and realised I was throwing my time away. I was writing something that will be seen by, at most, a couple of hundred people.

A couple of hundred intelligent people, sure. A couple of hundred relatively-influential-in-the-tech-industry, maximum-of-two-degrees-away-from-the-founders-of-Facebook people, even. However, that pales in insignificance to the number of wonderful, influential and awesome people out there on Teh Internets as a whole.

And even assuming that the beta-wall drops and the great unwashed get to gaze upon the wisdom of Quora, my writing is still at the behest of the great Quora gods. If they delete or edit my post, or the hard drive crashes, or they decide they’re getting out of the Q&A business and turning off the servers, all my time is lost.

By writing an answer on Quora, I was giving my time and value to Quora The Company, without getting anything of any real value back. Yes people could vote me up or down, or comment on what I wrote, but I can theoretically get that by writing a blog post and linking it on Reddit or Hacker News.

The Quora terms of service make it clear that I “own” my content. I want a way to get a feed of everything I contribute so I can store it away and do with it what I want.

Why is this important? Twitter’s a grand example. Right now, it is impossible to download more than 3,200 of your own tweets. The API simply balks if you request anything older. Luckily, I started archiving my tweets long before hitting that limit, so I have access to everything I’ve ever posted there.

Similarly, I upload my photos to Flickr. I get all the benefits of Flickr’s superior community and organizational tools, but am also able to run a script which downloads and backs-up all my photos, their descriptions, tags and comments.

And in both these examples, I am able to pull my content in real time and display it here on my blog. My output is collated and tagged in the way I want. I can run a blog search and find something I wrote two years ago, whether blogpost, tweet or photo description.

So, until Quora offers such a feed, I am resolved to not answering any more questions. Or rather, if I do, it will be by writing a blog post and posting the link to Quora.


On Wednesday, May 19, 2010, Joel commented:

You've absolutely nailed it.

Problem is it's often a hard sell to the product managers when the community you're building doesn't know how to articulate the requirement..

On Wednesday, May 19, 2010, Joel commented:

PS: where's the API to grab all comments posted from my email on this site? *curious* ;)

About This Site

This is an archive of groovmother.com, the old blog run by Rod Begbie — A Scottish geek who lives in San Francisco, CA.

I'm the co-founder of Sōsh, your handy-dandy guide for things to do in San Francisco this weekend.