Welcome to the API jungle or why developers must learn how to find, select, integrate APIs and contribute to their improvement and evolution. This is guest blog post by Martin Duval, CEO, Bluenove.
API jungle: What brands should do with this surfeit of APIs
As I started writing this article at the beginning of October 2011 , the http://www.programmableweb.com/ web site indicated on its home page that it has identified 4007 APIs and 6175 mash-ups on a global footprint: At the moment you are reading this piece on the Visionary Marketing, I am certain these numbers are completely outdated. I agree that, Dear Developers, these numbers are still very far from your ‘Ocean of Apps’ but this new ecosystem nevertheless starts to look like a ‘Jungle of APIs’.
First and foremost, let’s take the time to put this notion of Open APIs back into its context. ‘Application Programming Interfaces’ do enable the connection between different IT platforms and the integration of different application and services through the creation of a ‘mash-up’.
Open APIs proposed by a mobile or web player aim at helping the creation of an ecosystem around a common platform, therefore forming a dynamic community of creative developers who are given the opportunity to innovate faster and in many more directions, than if they wished to do it on their own.
This is therefore a genuine Open Innovation strategy in which the various players will have to initiate and maintain a long-term bond of trust, based on elements such as stability, sustainability, ease of use of the platform and the APIs, but also based on a win-win relationship with its community of partner developers.
Beyond the major web platforms (Google, Facebook, Ebay, Twitter, Amazon, etc.) that propose to the developers a big set of APIs and of course the main mobile OSes (Iphone, Android, Windows Phone, etc.) offering their SDKs to support the development of mobile applications, similar open programs exist as well in the Telecom industry.
Telecom operators such like Orange (with Orange API), Telefonica (with their BlueVia program) or Telenor (with Mobilt Bedriftsnett) also allow access to third parties to some of their network assets such as SMS, click-to-call, location, storage, billing, etc. in order to facilitate the emergence of new services through the innovation potential from developers, start-ups and brands.
A signal demonstrating the need for rationalisation and standardisation in this ‘jungle of APIs’ came up with the GSMA ‘One API’ initiative: a success still to be confirmed.
What brands should do with this surfeit of APIs
The API landscape is extremely dynamic. The following 2 diagrams taken from ProgrammableWeb describe the most common APIs which are used in order to build mash-ups. They show the dominance of major historic players (check the “see all time” diagram) but also the more recent rise of new players such as Twilio in the recent past (last 14 days), as well as the convergence of Cloud Computing and Telecom.
There is yet more evidence of the emergence of this new ecosystem; it is indeed interesting to notice the emergence of new players offering the technical support to manage API infrastructures such as the new Application Enablement Services Business Unit from Alcatel-Lucent (the one that acquired ProgrammableWeb in 2010), Mashery, Apigee, Aepona or 3Scale.
But let’s come back to the relationship between Apps and APIs.
After all, aren’t applications mere channels? To support their promotion, we can reasonably bet that Brands will also create APIs in the future, with probably a more obvious way to demonstrate Return On Investment through the number of innovative apps created by third party creative developers than through the number of downloads KPI of their own app. Brands could therefore propose APIs in order to extend the reach of their products and services.
Here are some suggestions for a few popular Brands.
- Nike could create a “Just Size It” API that gives the perfect shoe size from the photo of your feet,
- Evian could create a hydration API that calculates the quantity of water a person needs to drink daily and reminds her when rehydration is needed,
- Netflix has proposed an API to tap into its customers’ creative capabilities, and even organized a contest  so as to crowdsource ideas leading to the improvement of the algorithms of its movie recommendation engine,
- French off-licence chain Nicolas could create an API that allows its customers to find and leave recommendations about the wine they buy.
How could these companies support the use of their APIs, and therefore the promotion of their Brand? This would be done by the developers who would make sure to make APIs accessible by the end users on different interfaces, and who would find ways to remunerate themselves through the proposition of new business models.
Of course Brands can still develop some specific applications themselves, but the decision to propose an Open API will offer an unparalleled way to boost exponentially the reach of their promotion.
A lot of marketing managers are sometimes the victims of the ‘gadget syndrome’: they follow the trend getting on board the last fashionable feature to include into their marketing plans. One year it is the ‘Facebook Page’, or the ‘Twitter account’, and the year after the ‘Mobile App’.
But as part of a more sustainable marketing and innovation strategy, the best solution may very well not be an application but rather an Open API.
Another trend to take into account as a booster for the number of APIs, is Open Data. The opening of public data by the administrations (After initiatives in the US with Data.gov and in the UK with Data.gov.uk, Etalab is also about to launch the Data.gouv.fr portal of data sets in December 2011) and French cities such as Rennes, Paris or Montpellier have already exposed some data sets with some of them as APIs.
Open Data for businessese
The concept also appeals to businesses as shown by the Bluenove white paper (in French) entitled “Open Data: what are the issues and the opportunities for the enterprise?” with sponsors such as French railways SNCF, French Post Office Group La Poste, SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT and the French confectionary giant Poult group. The Civil Service, local governments as well as businesses will have to learn how to attract, engage and manage a community of developers but also of entrepreneurs, researchers, academics, students and companies from other industries to motivate them to use their APIs and boost their innovation.
as a conclusion: the fundamental role of developers
One the one hand major platforms continue relentlessly to open themselves to to more and more end users thanks to more open developments. On the other hand, developers will try to invent new applications but will also have to use an increasing number of available APIs and use new skills to detect, select, integrate them but also contribute to improve them and even ask for new ones.
One sees new types of requirements, services and skills emerging which keep the collaboration and innovation momentum going between the members of these complex ecosystems among which developers have a fundamental role to play.
 ProgrammableWeb has been aquired by Alcatel-Lucent in 2010
 SDK : Software Development Kit
 Orange API : http://api.orange.com/en
 BlueVia from Telefonica : https://bluevia.com/en/
 Telenor Mobilt Bedriftsnett : http://www.telenor.com/en/news-and-media/press-releases/2009/Telenor-opens-new-interface-to-third-parties
 GSMA ‘One API’ : http://www.gsmworld.com/oneapi/ KPI : Key Performance Indicator
 Examples from this article on Mashable by Adam Kleinberg : http://mashable.com/2011/01/04/brand-open-api-developers/
 One of ’the 12 levers of Open Innovation’ : see https://www.slideshare.net/Bluenove
 EtaLab : http://www.etalab.gouv.fr/
 Rennes Open Data : http://www.data.rennes-metropole.fr/
 Paris : http://www.bluenove.com/publications/revue-de-presse/bluenove-fait-parler-les-donnees-de-la-ville-de-paris-et-le-web/
 Montpellier Open Data : http://opendata.montpelliernumerique.fr/Le-projet