Align your ducks before releasing your API

Meme

To the uninitiated, exposing your API (application programming interface) may seen counter-intuitive.

However, there are countless examples of companies who have discovered the enormous value that lies in doing so. Expedia, Google, Amazon Web Services – to name just a few high profile examples.

As the above meme implies though, there are key steps a company must have in place before releasing their API for general use. The first step is realising the full potential for growth.

Will Bosma Vice-President of Mulesoft, a company that provides integration platforms for connecting applications, data services and APIs, tells Dynamic Business that the foremost way APIs help businesses to grow is via the creation of new business models and revenue streams.

Bosma believes that for the first time, companies and developers are now starting to think about designing APIs with the end-user in mind.

“The thing that is a big change is people are starting to understand what they can really do with APIs. They developed APIs not necessarily with the end-consumer in mind, and APIs now are almost becoming… well it’s probably early days to say this, but I believe B2B integration will almost exclusively be through APIs very soon,” Bosma says. “B2B websites will go away, and things like BDI and EDI protocols will also die because there are better ways to do that common integration from the business-to-business perspective and it’s much more flexible.”

From a design perspective, Bosma says it’s becoming a given that someone in an external company is going to want to use the API. It must then be asked: ‘How do I make it easy for an external company to understand what this API does, and put a nice look and feel on that to make sure they’re going to use it to its full extent?’

“One of the things we’re seeing is ‘sure we have people wanting to build APIs’ but how do you actually design them so that people want to consume and use them – and that’s a change,” Bosma adds.

On the other side of the coin, some small businesses are also capitalising on the opportunity to be part of a bigger ecosystem, without having to invest in all the bricks and mortar, as do large companies.

What to do before launching a new API?

Mulesoft points to four key secrets of a great API.

  1. Design for user experience;
  2. Optimise for use-case;
  3. Provide easy access; and
  4. Build a community.

Case Study: Beats Music

Music subscription service Beats Music opened up its API to developers in March, allowing programmers the ability to create apps for any platform using Beats Music’s own catalogue to play tracks — and also take advantage of the service’s unique model.

“Beats Music believes in being as open as possible, because we think the best ideas come from you,” the company writes on its developers page.

The service, which launched in January, already had developer deals in place with manufacturers such as Sonos. Yet by opening up its API to the programming community at large, Beats is now better placed to challenge Spotify and other streaming services on a range of fronts. What’s more, opening up the API allows programmers to build Beats Music apps not just for mobile and desktop platforms, but also cars for example.