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Agora.io's Byrd Calls for APIs

By Paula Bernier
July 14, 2016

Communications as a service provider Agora.io prides itself on delivering premium quality-of-experience video and voice communications across devices and networks globally. The company’s solutions enable software applications to support as many as 20,000 users in a single conference, and provide HD real-time video and voice communication services to organizations across a range of industries. On the eve of the All About the API conference that will take place next week in Las Vegas, we interviewed Lawrence Byrd, technology evangelist at Agora.io.

Byrd also co-founded the contact center company Quintus, later acquired by Avaya in 2001, becoming Avaya Interaction Center. He was marketing director at Avaya for 12 years and has expertise with a wide range of business solutions and technologies related to unified communications, collaboration, contact center, customer analytics, CRM, voice, video and WebRTC software.

What new business opportunities are being driven by the API economy?

APIs are the fundamental building blocks for all modern software, and software is eating the world! So it’s good to see the All About The API conference, which will be completely focused on the business, technology and developer aspects of this important market evolution.

For developers using APIs, the goal is much more rapid time to market, with very quick MVP examples early on, and then much richer production applications in later stages that can be reliably and flexibly maintained. Only APIs that really help all these goals will be retained over time.

For organizations with applications, platforms or data, APIs are central to participating in and building ecosystems that drive adoption and increased usage. Organizations cannot get the ecosystem multiplier effect without investing seriously in effective APIs. And this is not just about business apps – The New York Times, for example, has an amazing API providing access to decades of its journalism.

Which verticals are/are most likely to be the early adopters of APIs?

Every vertical industry is impacted by APIs where there are two obvious patterns: building brand new and especially mobile apps, and writing extensions to existing applications and/or gluing together mashups of many apps. And then this is crossed by the differences between consumer, business, government, not-for-profit, etc., apps. So the space is vast, but the opportunities are not driven by APIs or no APIs – they are driven by the customer needs, market dynamics and the entrepreneurship in finding new solutions. We in the API business are enablers for everyone else’s innovation.

What major challenges do API developers face?

One challenge is sifting through all the choices and picking the most appropriate APIs for the tasks at hand, that add real value for the application, that play nice with other APIs and tools, and that are backed by companies that will be there for the long haul and support the developers well – sort of like buying anything.

Sometimes you are forced to use certain APIs to get access to specific applications and platforms, in which case there will be challenges over their completeness, ease-of-use and ease of fitting into the rest of your development framework.

APIs are design artifacts that must be well designed and fit-for-purpose – so choose (or build) them well.

To whom should APIs be marketed?

Developers and technical architects and app team-leads are obviously central to API adoption, but any technology adoption requires top-down business leadership support and alignment with strategic objectives to get the support needed to be serious about using or building them. APIs in a vacuum are likely to suffocate.

How do you measure the ROI of APIs?

For API users, the question is whether they drive faster time to market, better feature sets, increased robustness, and therefore app use and revenue. The ROI challenge is gauging the impact of the APIs you use vs. everything else that goes into creating great apps. For API builders, the question is whether they create an ecosystem that demonstrably drives adoption of the underlying app, platform or data. Ecosystem revenue usually comes from growth of the platform rather than the API itself, again making ROI calculations interesting.

Who is responsible for API security, and is API security unique?

Security is everyone’s responsibility and is always challenging. APIs are a software architecture layer that is brought in from somewhere else, so you get all the usual boundary security issues that occur between networking, hardware and software layers. And APIs are software, so if any layer is careless then security of the whole app can be compromised. Therefore, security is needed at all levels – through encryption and authorization models within the APIs and across the cloud infrastructure behind the APIs, as well as best practices in the applications which use them.

Which is better, SOAP or REST? 

Ahh, trick question! The best underlying API technology always depends on the application and use case needs, and there are purposes for both these technologies and more. That said, the answer is REST, because pretty much all distributed or Web API frameworks should have REST interfaces; whereas SOAP is likely to be more specialized and additional, so you can often optimize by just leaving it out. Plus, SOAP can be complex and brittle.

This question also leaves out several other important API approaches – native SDKs for particular devices, JavaScript libraries for web browsers, and language-based APIs for server-side software stacks – all of which can be key for end-to-end application building.

How often are APIs changed or updated? 

APIs tend to always be in flux with higher rates of change early in their lifecycle and in more bleeding-edge technology areas. However, the whole point of APIs is to create a stable boundary between producers and consumers of specific functionality – so it’s the job of the API builder to stabilize this. This requires good early design and good release and management disciplines.

What standards are needed to enable mass development and adoption of APIs across verticals?

Generally, I think the horse is long gone from the barn. The past decade has seen an unexpected explosion in alternative approaches, software stacks and even programming languages. So there are many ways to standardize, and APIs need to fit within the patterns and frameworks where they will be used, which are also constantly changing. For some this will [involve] various standard styles of REST, for mobile APIs they must fit within iOS and Android frameworks, etc.

How important is building an ecosystem around your API(s)? 

It depends on the goal, as discussed earlier. If you are an API user, then you need APIs that add value and fit into the frameworks you are using – whether they themselves have ecosystems around them is secondary, and many API solutions to specific problems may not. If you are adopting a platform, from Slack to Salesforce, then the ecosystem is important as it gives you lots of alternatives for extending your use of the platform through APIs. If your goal is to become a major platform yourself through APIs then you absolutely, by definition, need to build a large and effective ecosystem.

What differentiates one ecosystem from another?


Why should attendees at All About the API make sure to attend the Agora.io sessions and visit the company’s booth?

Agora.io provides APIs backed by a global virtual network spanning over 80 data centers to ensure quality of experience for global real-time video and voice communications. It is hard to ensure real-time quality of experience from all kinds of mobile and other devices, over varying mobile networks and across the global internet. Agora.io makes this simple with a cloud API platform (aka Communications Platform as a Service) with native SDKs for iOS, Android, Mac, Windows and JavaScript that take the headaches out of global real-time communications and broadcasting. We allow developers to minimize their costs and focus on their application value with free development, no upfront costs or licensing, no infrastructure requirements and simple pay-as-you-go pricing.

Edited by Alicia Young

Executive Editor, TMC

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