Opening up data with YQL

Recently I’ve been following Chris Heilmann’s enthusiastic posts about Yahoo! Query Language (YQL). Chris has also written a good introduction to YQL for developers. It’s a SQL-like language for getting data out of open web services. Sort of a single syntax for interacting with a variety of services, such as the APIs for flickr, upcoming or twitter, without needing to know a lot of the detail of those individual services. One of its features is open data tables, which allows you to describe your own web services using a simple XML syntax, not unlike OpenSearch.

Last year we made the National Maritime Museum collections available as OpenSearch RSS feeds. More recently we’ve developed a new manuscripts search which also publishes search results as RSS. After reading Chris’ blog I had a go at writing some YQL table descriptions for those feeds. They’re very simple to write and you can find my examples at

Here are a couple of example queries using those tables. For example, search the NMM art collections for the phrase “tower bridge”:

use '' as;
select * from where category = 'art' and searchterm = '"tower bridge"'

Or perhaps search the archive catalogue for the phrase “aircraft carrier”:

use '' as;
select * from where searchterm = '"aircraft carrier"'

The results from YQL queries can be returned as XML or JSON. For an example of using these feeds, have a look at Chris’ Javascript for dynamically retrieving photos from flickr with YQL. I haven’t got any examples using the NMM data at the moment but it’s an interesting way to look at the whole idea of web-based APIs. I particularly like the idea of wrapping these services in a single syntax to simplify writing code to work with them.

Update: Here’s an example using the NMM collection, which I put together for Chris Heilmann’s talk at the museum.