Machina a machina: An introduction to APIs with Google Sheets

Background image: CC-BY-NC nikki https://flic.kr/p/5d59EW

I recently had the pleasure of attending and presenting at MozFest 2017. MozFest had been on my bucket list to attend for a while and the event did not disappoint. My contribution to the event was a session as part of the web literacy space designed to introduce people to APIs. If you are not familiar APIs are essentially an way for you to interact and retrieve data from another application.  Many services like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and many Google services have APIs created so that other people can build tools that interact with their platform.

As you start exploring APIs you gain insight into actually how much data is available, in many cases this data being personal information. Understanding APIs can help you decide how much information you want to share as well as creating opportunities for you to reclaim your content. For example, if Twitter was to disappear tomorrow all of my tweets are stored on Github, possible by using APIs to read and write data.

Whilst I admit that particular solution is very geeky, using APIs isn’t just for hardcore coders and still much can be achieved with the relative familiarity of a spreadsheet. For the session I focused on using Google Sheets built-in formula to get data from the Flickr APIs to build a timeline of ‘mozfest’ tagged images (embedded below).

I think this exercise works quite well for events like MozFest as people can relate to the result. If you would like to learn more about APIs or help others learn what is possible the contents of my session are available for reuse at: https://github.com/mhawksey/machina-a-machina/. If you are looking for more resources/people I recommend that you read/follow API Evangelist, Kin Lane https://apievangelist.com/. Kin has a number of great posts on using Google Sheets with APIs.