One of the best parts of Web 2.0 for geeks is APIs. These are Application Programming Interfaces, and they are a relatively new part of the way that Web 2.0 works. Like the freedom that RSS gives to end users in terms of getting the data that you want in your hands, to read when and how you want it, APIs give programmers (and, at times, end users) the freedom to get data from Web 2.0 services, like del.icio.us, google, flickr, and many, many others, and use and manipulate this data to their own ends.
One of the best examples of the use of APIs are Google Map mashups. These are using data in your own databases, and grabbing maps from google maps and putting them inside your application. Other examples include desktop applications that allow uploading photos to flickr.
Folks at NTEN have been thinking about APIs, and will host a discussion about them on Friday. I intend to be there, and listen in, and take notes, and post my opinions about the zen of APIs for nonprofits.
But I have a first take. I think that APIs are an expression of the best of what the internet is about. The free sharing of information in ways that allow for new innovation. It allows nonprofits free access to data that they would normally not have access to (like mapping data), or would have to pay a lot for. And if nonprofits, in making their own Web 2.0 applications, provided their data via open APIs, it would help other nonprofits, and the sector as a whole. I have dreams of applications that combine, say, available bed space in shelters and soup kitchens, all mapped for people to find. Or any other interesting combination of things. It's all possible if people freely share the data they share anyway on the web in an API.