The benefits of APIs are a continual topic in the tech world today. APIs not only make it easier and more affordable to access and use today’s hottest technologies but they are also increasing the rate at which developers and businesses are innovating. As we continue to explore and utilize these tools, many will be watching and many will be investing.
All About the API is a conference event dedicated to talking about this topic and bringing together thought leaders and businesses who want to learn more.
Benjamin Stein, who is the Director of Product, Messaging at API company Twilio, took some time to answer a few questions on the topic for DevsWorld.
Twilio provides everything from raw HTTP to helper libraries that helps companies get up and running quickly in their language of choice. It also offers in-depth reference docs for REST APIs, mobile SDKs and all Twilio products.
Stein will be presenting during a session titled: Consequences of an Unhealthy API – What Businesses Need to Know at 9:30 a.m. on Tues. July 19. The session will discuss how businesses of all sizes use APIs as shortcuts to new digital interactions.
Our exchange follows.
What new business opportunities are being driven by to the growth of the so-called API economy?
The increase in available APIs is truly changing the way developers and businesses adopt and utilize technology, enabling them to focus on their core business logic instead of infrastructure. Affordable building blocks allow for more rapid experimentation and prototyping, vastly reducing the traditional time to take a product to market. Because developers no longer have to build complex logic from scratch or pay for expensive software licenses, they can embark on multiple projects at the same time, and then quickly scale them once they’re ready for deployment.
Is there a market for APIs you would consider the low-hanging fruit? Which markets are the next to leverage APIs extensively?
APIs are really about solving problems with code. Look for industries that still rely on expensive, inaccessible technology that were historically limited to developers. Consider how software has changed since the introduction of simple APIs to access things like telecom, payments and maps. Introducing a flexible, low-cost API that makes it easy to solve problems in that field should be embraced eagerly by developers working in it.
What is the major challenges API developers face?
An API is forever. You don’t get to make tweaks and changes to your API when it will break other developers’ applications. Getting an API design right and keeping it running 24/7 without introducing backwards, incompatible changes – or having maintenance downtime – is incredibly hard. Getting these things right is what separates a good API from a great one.
Who, within an organization, should businesses target when marketing their APIs (i.e., business leaders, C-Suite, developers)?
Developers these days have more influence than ever before. That being said, developers are notorious for shrugging off traditional marketing, are fiercely individualistic, and rely mostly on word of mouth and peers to influence which technology they adopt for a particular problem. If you want to win over developers, you need to make your tech as easy as possible to use - quick to get started, accessible documentation and sensible security. Be honest, from your marketing to your product, and if you focus on the platform, developers will love it.
How do you measure ROI of APIs?
Does it enable you to get the job done faster, at a more affordable price than doing it yourself? And does it give you the flexibility to adapt and grow your solution as your business needs inevitably change? These are really the hallmarks of ROI for APIs. Anything else is shenanigans, or marketing speak.
Who is responsible for security? Is API security more challenging that securing other applications, hardware, and networks?
EVERYONE is responsible for security! Securing an API is no more challenging than securing any Internet connected application. And with anything security related, it’s critical to strike a balance between security and usability. Always prioritize industry standards and best practices, and unless you’re a security technology company, don’t build it from scratch.
Which is better, SOAP or REST? Why?
While developers can get the job done with either technology, REST is certainly easier to understand, easier to get started with and easier to debug. When you’re selling an API, since it’s not something you can touch and feel, you’re really selling your documentation and the developer experience. With experience as a priority, the REST interface is likely the better choice for a modern API.
How often are APIs changed or updated? How is this accomplished while ensuring minimal disruption to users and their customers?
An API can be updated any time, but once published and labeled public, it should never be changed in a backwards, incompatible way. Changing your API is equivalent to breaking your customers’ applications, which means breaking their trust. It’s a disruption at best, and catastrophic at worst – your customers may not even have the resources available to adapt to whatever you change. APIs should always be versioned and extended; again, always keep your community in mind.
What kinds of standardization are still needed to drive successful mass development and adoption of APIs across verticals?
Adopting common standards has been instrumental in the proliferation of APIs over recent years. On the flip side, we’ve seen the overhead that design-by-committees can cause with the confusing and overwhelming number of “WS-*” specifications. We have proven best practices for things like authentication and data formats; API developers should adopt these patterns rather than investing time in building their own.
How important is building an ecosystem around your API(s)? Can your API(s) be successful without it?
Community is really the core of a successful API. If you’re developing an API, the challenge is to build a loyal, passionate community while monetizing the platform in a way that fosters innovation. At the end of the day, the people taking your API to commercial success are the developers building on it. As you build your ecosystem, the rewards are invaluable. Developers will build amazing things you’ve never considered, and a strong, thriving community will be an excellent source of product feedback that will help you determine and inform your future releases. And most importantly, you’re making their lives easier while empowering them to build the future.
What differentiates one ecosystem from another?
The best ecosystems focus on improving the developer experience: API documentation, tutorials, helper libraries, reporting, forums and FAQs, as well as in-person community events, like hackathons and meetups. Have I mentioned how important community is? These are the people on the front lines of making your technology successful— it’s important to wear their shoes and know where they’re coming from.
Why should attendees at All About the API make sure to attend your session/booth?
Twilio was one of the first successful API companies, and we’ve focused on developers since day one. We would love to share our best practices and lessons learned which will be super-serving for developers to help further the entire API ecosystem.
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