4chan, the long-standing image-based bulletin board, has revamped its software, adding an API and new features for developers.
4chan is well-known not only as the original source of many images that surface on the Web, but also as the origin of pranks such as the Rick Astley joke where images of pop star Rick Astley appeared instead of the page that was searched for. The 4chan community is influential and enthusiastic, and the API provides a route to the huge number of images they post on the board.
The underlying code for 4chan is a modified image board system managed by volunteers, closed to the client side and fairly stable in terms of not offering new features. The organization has now added a read-only JSON API that makes the underlying data on the site available for external use. The API has been released and documented on Github, alongside details of another change where the 4chan browser extensions have been incorporated into the main site. The code is also being released under an open source license.
Announcing the API, 4chan’s Moot commented:
"4chan" and "API" are certainly two words I never thought I'd find in the same sentence, but alas, here we are. Beginning today, every thread will be rendered in JSON and accessible
... I'm curious to see how people will use it. The total number of official and third-party extension users numbers in the hundreds of thousands (roughly 1.5% of all visitors), and our native extension will reach all 22 million of 4chan's monthly visitors. This potentially has huge performance implications, and it's much more efficent to fetch JSON objects rather than scrape a full HTML page.
The new API means the wide range of unusual and often creative content can be accessed and made use of in your own apps. Equally interestingly, the changes may herald future plans for providing more organized changes in the future.