Freely Available Utilities

The title comes from a phrase that stood out for me in this post from RWW.

That post highlights some really sweet data pr0n (TwitterThoughts and World Twitter Map) built by Yvo Schaap that uses the Twitter API for data, Yahoo Pipes for parsing and the Google Visualization API for producing the eye candy. All these tools are “freely available utilities”, and what Yvo has built with them is pretty compelling.

World Twitter Map, tweets by volume over the last 24 hours

Another freely available utility is Google Code, which Chet is using to host his code. I really like this idea; ideally, you can get a bunch of smart people in your extended community to hack with you on a fun project, like an open source incubator. But even if no one ever joins, you’ll still have a code resume that is readily available should you need to interview.

Chet has experience with interviews, natch, but I don’t think this is why he started hosting his code. It’s just a fun project.

He also mentioned the Visualization API, which is really cool.

Friend of the ‘Lab and OpenSocial dude at Google, Chris Shalk gave a very interesting unconference session on the Google APIs at OpenWorld last September, embedded below if you’re reading at theappslab.

I’ve been trying to find the right data set to use with that for a long time. One day.

I suppose I could use the Public Data Sets on AWS, another great resource, but not one for this discussion, since they are part of the EC2 offering and not free. On the flipside, if you have the right to distribute a data set or have a public domain/non-proprietary set, you can request that AWS host it for you.

This isn’t that different than the API model that Twitter has taken, i.e. provide open access to your data through an API, stand back and watch what cool things people do with your data. Twitter’s API seems to produce a new service each week, creating an ecosystem of services and applications that depend on it.

We’ve had some success with this inside the firewall too. Connect’s APIs are used by a handful of services, OraTweet chief among them. Likewise for OraTweet’s APIs. People are starting to get how this matters inside the firewall for free-sharing of information, whether it’s a hacking project some developer wants to undertake to scratch a personal itch or it’s a more formal collaborative undertaking with a budget and a mission.

Either way, freely available utilities rule. Finding out about them is half the battle, e.g. Yahoo Pipes is a very useful tool, but I don’t know of many people who use it. I used it to create the feed for the “What We’re Reading” widget, and Dawn Foster has become the Pipes maven. Check out her tutorials if you want Pipes knowledge.

In the spirit of discovery, what freely available utilities do you think are awesome? Any thoughts about Yvo’s Twitter visualizations or Chet’s project?

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