Alistair Farquharson

I can’t stress enough that the best APIs are often the most basic. Typically, they do one thing really well and leave themselves open for developers to leverage as they please.

So once you’ve finished the planning stages of your API, don’t just hand off your general plan to your coders and leave them to their own devices. Make sure they understand your API may be used by a variety of people with various levels of technological experience. Have them construct the code, so that it is obvious what your API can do.

Let me give you an example about why simplicity is so important for an API.

Social media archiving company Arkovi included an API with its services soon after the company was founded in 2009. Arkovi customers use the API to collect data from various social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and RSS feeds and archive the data.

Arkovi made its API very basic. It asks the type of data the user needs, the format the user wants, and the frequency in which the user wants that information harvested.

Arkovi’s management team mostly hail from the financial services realm, and they saw their service, API included, as a compliance and e-discovery tool. If an employee was saying negative things about the company or not representing the company properly, Arkovi would let IT managers and legal departments handle the situation before it went out of control.

But Arkovi’s management soon noticed that its API was being used in ways it hadn’t anticipated. Companies were using the API to track competitors’ Tweets, monitor certain hashtags, follow SEO terms through Google and Bing, and access other mar-comm information. Increasingly, Arkovi’s customers saw the API as a way to aid marketing strategies, as well as legal- and compliance-based ones.

And because Arkovi built such a simple API, users could explore these new use cases without breaking it. As a resuilt, Arkovi’s API brought it new business, along with new ways of positioning its services. And you can’t ask for much more from an API than that.

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