UK newspaper gets into the app business

In the past decade, newspapers have struggled to find their place in the internet world – largely unsuccessfully.

As companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google expanded their business online, newspapers shrank and many folded despite their attempts to get a foothold on the web.

Now, the British Guardian newspaper is trying to borrow strategies used by internet stars such as iTunes, Facebook and Google Maps, which have found great popularity by encouraging the development of third-party "apps" such as games or map-based tools.

On Tuesday, the Guardian launched a trial version of Open Platform, a service that allows users to build applications using free content and tools provided by the Guardian.

In return, users must agree that they will carry the newspaper's advertising in the future.

The newspaper also suggests that users may be able to work out a "custom partnership" with extra services such as the rights to publish ad-free content, redistribution rights, and extra content requests.

In an article on the newspaper's website, Guardian news and media director of digital content Emily Bell, said the service was a "new chapter in our history and a new foundation for the future of our journalism."

So far, the type of content the newspaper is making available includes:

  • A database of text articles that can be queried to deliver content in formats such XML and ATOM that are "geared toward integration with other internet applications."
  • A statistics database full of "high quality data sets" on topics such as carbon emissions by country or child poverty in England.

Examples of applications that have been made using Open Platform are:

  • API Maps by Stamen Design, which allows users to link certain articles to points on a map
  • Content Tagger, which allows users to tag articles with their own keywords

Both feel a little clumsy right now, but they're a start and there is nothing to stop the developers from continuing to test them, make improvements, and come up with new ideas.

In the future, the Guardian said it plans to ad more services such as an ad network and application platform.