I am a linguist, working on Natural Language Processing, which is the field that deals with extracting information and meaning out of text. It has taken me some time to explain to my family and friends what I work on. The family joke was to say that I did something that involved words, as if I was some sort of word guardian or sheperd (which does sound kind of cool). It has been particulary tough for my father to understand what I do, and why this field is exciting and useful.
However, once he was becoming familiar with NLP, Apicultur came up and APIs was everything I was talking about. Explaining what an API is and its importance for business to my 60-year-old father was far more challenging than explaining how a dictionary is made. And since we were having tapas in a bar, I used the situation as a metaphor of how APIs work. Here is my clumsy, picturesque and unorthodox explanation about APIs to my father. Perhaps someone facing a similar question will find it useful.
Let’s say I have a company that deals with some kind of information. In the case of Molino de Ideas, that information would be words and other linguistic analyzers. Ok, metaphorically, Molino de Ideas and its resources will be the kitchen of the bar. There are people interested in my resources (in Molino’s case, those would be publishing houses, search engines, developers in general dealing with some sort of linguistic processing), which in our metaphor will mean that there are people wanting to consume the meals that are cooked in my kitchen. This means that I have a kitchen where great food is being prepared and customers sitting at the table willing to eat that food, but I need some way that provides effective communication between customers and the kitchen: I need a waiter. A waiter is essential so that customers can order, the cooks can prepare the plates that have been commanded and the dishes will be delivered from the kitchen to the tables. Happy cooks, happy customers. In my clumsy metaphor, the waiter is an API. An API is the way for companies to serve their information to others in an efficient way. Cooks can stay calm: having an API doesn’t mean exposing your internal information, the same way that having a waiter in your bar doesn’t mean publishing the recipe of your dishes. Therefore, your precious recipe on how to make best tortilla ever will remain secret. In exchange, more people will be able to enjoy your fabulous dishes.
That’s essentially how APIs in Apicultur work. APIs provide access to Molino’s engines, without exposing the engines themselves and allowing third parties (as GoodRae) to make the most of them without needing to worry about the linguistic processing behind them.