I'd like a small discussion about opening up SO functions as web services (APIs), so users can implement their own GUI/frontend for their needs for example?

What do you think, what pros and cons can this kind of model have?

  • Bounty: other ideas? – akarnokd Aug 5 '09 at 12:31

There has been talk about an API before, and I believe Jeff has said "It's definitely something we want to do" on the podcast - but with no timescale. I don't think it's a current priority, although a few APIs have been made available on a somewhat ad-hoc basis.

The obvious downside from the SO side of things is that custom clients would probably not include adverts, draining revenue. However, I don't see that as a major problem: most visits aren't made by the kind of regular user who would have a custom client anyway - they're "drive-by" visits via search engines, and these wouldn't be affected. Custom clients for power users could enable users to generate content more efficiently, and it's ultimately content that drives the search hits.

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  • Thank you. I feared the Ad-thing is the larges barrier for this kind of API. There can be non-free solutions to that too. I should really listen to the old podcasts from now. – akarnokd Jul 20 '09 at 8:22
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    yes, but "generating content via API" is kind of dangerous, as well -- look at how Twitter has been overrun by bots of all kinds through their APIs – Jeff Atwood Aug 7 '09 at 8:49

It will be a very strange decision, as far as other users may want to implement different UI with different scoring/badging system... I can't see any "pro" argument why owners of SO will want to do this.

I suppose that WebService API can be developed, but only to Get() answers/comments from site. However, RSS feeds are good replacements of that.

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    Thank you. I see at least one Pro: No more feature-requests regarding visualization. RSS feed isn't that diverse yet. Site rules for voting/badging would be the same as the site would still do it. But you are right, there are more cons about it, that I first thought: there is no free lunch - yet. – akarnokd Jul 20 '09 at 8:13

I put this answer to my question to detail my vision without obscuring the question above.

My original idea came from Twitter having API to do updates. I thought only a few, parameterable web services needs to be developed in order to work with SO:

  • Get-User
  • Get-Posts
  • Get-Single-Post
  • Post-Question
  • Post-Answer
  • Post-Comment
  • Edit-Question
  • Edit-Answer
  • Delete-Own-Question
  • Delete-Own-Answer
  • Get-Ads

Even if you're doing it for yourself only, you could customize your own client side UI as you want - sorting, further filtering, coloring etc.

For spinoff frontend sites, an ad-forwarding agreement would do the trick, and maybe a montly fee (which could be accumulated by other-ads on the spinoff site).

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  • Get-Ads? As in 'put our adds in your app'? – Robert Munteanu Aug 7 '09 at 21:34
  • Yes, but after several days of thinking, it seems pointless to me now. – akarnokd Aug 7 '09 at 22:18

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