I’ve been enjoying the class thus far– I haven’t felt too much in over my head until now. But this week, a lot of the reading had me completely lost.
What’s an API?
Well, it’s an "application programming interface." Honestly, I have no idea what that means– it’s about as clear as mud. The impression I get from Wikipedia is that it’s something you embed into a site using XML or HTML or both or something, that lets things talk to each other independently? From Google’s list of their APIs, I get the sense that it’s a method of embedding one set of functions and data within another web page in order to allow users to… I’m not sure. Get information without going to outside sources? It basically integrates one component of a search or data system into another page or system?
It’s all just fuzzy to me.
It has something to do with interoperability, I can tell that. But the interoperability article left me confused as well– it’s just a little too jargon-laden for me, using terminologies that muddle my brain trying to disambiguate concepts that ultimately remained quite ambiguous in my mind.
Maybe one answer to Dan Cohen’s question as to why there aren’t more APIs being produced in the humanities is that few people can do it– and I’m not even talking about code, here, I’m talking about the fact that in a class like this, that tries to bring us into the techie fold as historians, we have to constantly bounce back and forth between the highly difficult specialist languages of Information Theory, History and Historiography, and Nuts-and-Bolts computer-speak. Personally, I think a lot of people find such constant code-shifting (and I’m using that in the semiotic sense of code, not the techie sense) quite jarring and difficult. Or at least this geek-in-training is.
I feel like a bad grad student saying this, but my favorite sentence in all our readings for this week was, "To paraphrase Sarah Tyacke of the UK’s Public Records Office, this is the junk which enables the people (users) to get at the stuff (rich content) they want." THAT made sense to me. THAT explained something to me. I like it when authors don’t feel bad about occasionally "talking down to" their audience and explaining things, if they sense some of their audience may be non-experts. When I was a writing tutor, I always used to quote that line of Denzell Washington’s from Philadelphia: "Explain it to me like I’m a two-year-old." Honestly, while I used to be about the biggest theory geek you could find, I’m starting to think that’s some of the best advice you can give anyone on scholarly writing. It’s not patronizing to explain or define.
I know this post is coming off a bit negative, and that isn’t my intent, but I’m just sort of free-flowing it here, since I feel completely lost in the dust.
The idea of Web 2.0 being all about the bricolage is something I’m a little more able to understand, and I have to agree– it makes sense as a model. Before, web pages provided content. Now they provide interactive context. They have millions of points of articulation, and get shaped around user-provided content in a symbiotic relationship. The pluses and minuses of this shift for scholarship, I don’t feel prepared to comment on. I use lots of social-networking sites, lots of web sites that have user-provided content, but I don’t really draw from that fray in my research, nor do I toss my research out into it.
Also, was I the only one who had some real trouble navigating Yee’s site? I have the nagging suspicion that I missed a lot of the actual CONTENT there…
…Anyway, that’s my obligatory blog post for the week. I’m confused. I’m not sure what to say. And I wish others were better at explaining these things to me. I hope this post doesn’t come off as a negativity-bomb– I just wanted to put this stuff out there, and hopefully someone will be able to point me in the right direction as a result.