Talking to Developers and Civic Hackers on Their Own Terms…

Looking at the (new to me) Lords Amendments  website yesterday, I wondered whether the search was being fed by an API call, or whether an API is available elsewhere to the underlying data. (An API is available – find it via

There are a couple of ways of doing this. One way is to View Source” (in Chrome, View -> Developer -> View Source), because as everybody *should know, you can inspect the code running in your browser; another is to use Developer tools, (from the same browser menu) to look at the browser network activity and see what URLs are called when a new selection is made on the web page (the data has to come from somewhere right? And again, you can look at this if you want to.)

Anyway, it struck me that most folk don’t tend to use these tools, but those who do are probably interested in something you’re doing – either how the page was constructed to give a particular effect, or where the data is coming from. If you’re building screenscraper’s, you’d typically look to the source too.

So if you’re trying to engage with developers, whey not leave them messages where they’re likely to look. For example, if you want to promote an API, or perhaps if you’re recruiting. Which reminded me that the Guardian used to have an open developer recruitment ad running in their webpage source. Indeed, they still do:

So if your page is API powered somewhere along the line, and you want to promote the API, why not pop a message at the top of the page source?

Or, as I learned from James Bridle (he of The New Aesthetic; you do follow that photoblog, right?), one of the most thought provoking artists around at the moment (I hesitate to say “digital artist” because that’s still an artist, right… erm…. (data) journalism… erm…  hypocrite…), why not use the console too?

James even provides a script to help…. welcome.js.

PS for a recent example of James’ work, which also invokes the idea of magic-related computing metaphors (cf. here, for example), see this recent interview: Meet the Artist Using Ritual Magic to Trap Self-Driving Cars.

PPS This has got me wondering whether we could actually deliver a “just below the surface” uncourse or training through HTML source, console messages and Javascript comments. Documented code with a view to teaching how to get the most out of an API, or how to do webdesign. The medium as the educational message. See also: Search Engine Powered Courses…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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