Replaced the previous weather API example in my API course to now use OpenWeatherAPI
In my API course, I use a simple weather API to demonstrate how developers use an API, how to make requests to an API, how to document various aspects of the API, and more &mdasah; see Scenario for using a weather API. When I first created the course, I chose the simplest weather API I could find (one from Mashape) so that users could focus in on the bare bones of an API. However, the Mashape API I chose seemed to be a hobby project for a developer, and as such, it frequently had problems. Some endpoints were down, some didn’t work reliably, and sometimes even when working fine, it crashed when multiple people submitted requests at the same time.
Because I wove this API into a lot of different parts of my course (including the Swagger examples and OpenAPI tutorial), I dreaded removing it. But as I was making updates the other week, the API again was down, and I realized I needed to replace it with a more robust and stable API.
I replaced the API with the OpenWeatherMap API. The OpenWeatherMap’s Weather API is much more stable and functional. It’s not too robust that users will get confused, and although I would have liked an even simpler (and still free) API, I need stability and reliability. When I look at the OpenWeatherMap’s Team page and see a whole team of people, it reassures me that their weather API will be around a long time.
In today’s open-source GitHub era, where anyone can clone a repo, pull in other frameworks or services, and build an app or other piece of code, it’s easy to find and include code that you need. However, I’m wary of hobby projects like the initial weather API I incorporated, because they come back to bite me.
At work I had a similar issue this past week. One of the projects I work on uses a tool for querying JSON syntax. It’s a fork of someone else’s implementation of JSONpath. The project has an online evaluator that I reference heavily in my documentation, and inexplicably for about 2 weeks, the online evaluator went down. I filed an issue in the GitHub project, but when I looked at the project’s 102 open issues and 20 outstanding pull requests, it didn’t give me confidence that the developer was still actively involved. To my relief, the online evaluator finally came back online (though I didn’t hear any reason from the developer).
I can understand why the developer might not be immediately addressing all the open issues and PRs. I have an open source Jekyll project (a documentation theme) that could also use some love and attention. At the same time, I’m not sure I want to commit to a life-long side project that I’ll always maintain, develop, support, and respond to queries about.
So open source projects, with all the seemingly free and convenient code you can incorporate, is not without its pitfalls. The code might not be reliable in the long term. In the future, before incorporating any open-source code, I’ll look more closely to evaluate whether the project will still be maintained in a few years.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.