I may be generalizing, but too many people still view APIs as purely utilitarian. Integrate the Google Maps API into your GPS device so that users find the nearest gas station. Use NOAA Weather Service API to let skiers know the snow conditions in Telluride. And so forth.
But people forget that APIs — and the mashups that often result from them — are amazing! Take “iphoneography” iOS app Instagram. It takes Polaroid-style photos, lets users add cool filters to them, and then lets these users share their photos all over the world. Instagram uses Foursquare’s API in its code and provides its own API for other websites and apps to leverage.
The mashup possibilities among APIs can make you absolutely giddy. But most businesses can’t just cry out, “Make me an API!” You have considerations. Assuming you’ve built a rep for your products, you can’t just toss out some code and hope it will stick. No, you’ve got to map out the type of API your business wants to offer, make sure it does what it sets out to do, and finally to make it accessible, so that the developer community will run with it.
I believe smart businesses are best served by following a set of five best practices, which we at SOA call the “API Lifecycle.” They are, in order:
Plan, where you identify a useful and unique API that delivers some type of value to your audience and benefit your business.
Build, where you design an “atomic” API that developers can easily use for their own projects.
Run, where you ensure your API is manageable, robust, and secure, so that it can handle a wide range of use cases.
Promote, where you develop a thriving community of developers who feel comfortable choosing your API because developers have access to great documentation and information about how the API may be leveraged.
Support, where you provide community forums to your growing federation of developers, so that they can interact and collaborate on new ways to use your API.
We will be looking at each of these five steps in upcoming blog posts. That way, if you have the next Instagram (or even a good meat-and-potatoes API), you’ll be in great shape to get it out there and make it stick!