Advice for Offering Your Own Business-savvy APIs

Loraine Lawson

I seldom see my sister, who lives about 15 minutes from my house. She's a busy sales professional who spends a lot of time on the road and then, of course, there's her busy single social life. She's not one to return phone calls, and email and social networking have only been marginally more effective at eliciting a response. Needless to say, I've struggled to keep in touch with her.


Then I updated my phone and started texting more. I soon discovered that, like most of her generation, texting is her primary means of communicating. I now hear from her on a regular basis, even if it's only a few lines of text to touch base.


It turns out the key to staying in touch with my sister is no different than reaching readers or customers: You have to engage them where they are-whether that's searching online, through email or via a text message.


This may seem like an odd integration topic, but a common tool for integration-the API-is now more than just a snippet of code for integration. More companies are using APIs to connect and communicate with customers where they are.


That means IT and developers need to start thinking about APIs a bit more strategically. Instead of thinking about them as a simple way to integrate or share a service, think of them as the equivalent of having a Web page in the 1990s, advises Sam Ramji, vice president of strategy for Apigee, a company that offers API management solutions for developers and enterprises.

If you use a mobile phone and you use an app like Yelp or Facebook or any of the various cloud service apps that you can think of, that's not a website. How is that actually getting to your business? It's getting there by APIs. In a nutshell, the world is moving beyond the browser and as we go beyond the browser, we are going from Web pages to APIs. The business value of that is to remain present and connected, to keep your open for business' sign out there.

This is new terrain for many organizations, and you may have a lot of questions-particularly about the "how" of APIs. Recently, I found two excellent articles that provide answers to three key questions:

  1. Should you offer an API, and to what end?
  2. What technology do you need to offer and support an API?
  3. How can you promote your API to ensure it's actually gets used?


A recent article by Mashable, published on DNS vendor DYN's blog, addresses all three questions, although it focuses primarily on the first two, including a discussion of how to identify goals for API.


Augusto Marietti is the founder of Mashape, a marketplace for building, distributing and hacking with APIs. In a recent article posted to DYN's blog, Marietti provided a checklist of issues to consider, including whether the API will be a money-making product or more of a tool for encouraging third-party developers to integrate with your service or platform. Costs, target users (consumer or enterprise?) and scale are among the other issues he suggests you consider.


After reading the post, I realized it's more useful to think of an API as a marketing project: You'll need to know what your target market is, how the API is tied to the business goal, and you'll need to consider how your API differs from existing APIs, including anything your competitors may offer. Likewise, you can't just write an API and forget about it-you'll have to refresh your API, just as marketing refreshes its message.


You'll also need to consider possible cons, such as the potential risk and cost of opening up your data, Dimitri Sirota, an executive for Layer 7 Technologies, told DYN.


Sirota also answers that second question regarding what technology solutions and tools you'll need if you're going to offer APIs, saying organizations will need to invest in:

  • A developer portal
  • An API proxy or a gateway, which will regulate what APIs get exposed to whom and when
  • An API monitoring and lifecycle management solution


The post also contains some information on how to ensure your API is used, but it's pretty basic-things like "register it" as in ProgrammableWeb's directory.


For a better discussion of our third question-what can you do to ensure your API is actually used-check out Mashable's recent article, "HOW TO: Get Devs to Use Your Company's API." It's targeted more to independent developers, but I think the advice will still hold for organizations.

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