Looking Beyond The Number Of APIs, Or Just New APIs, And Working Harder To Find Only The Most Important APIs
23 Feb 2015
I constantly struggle to stay in tune with the scope of the API space, and keep pace with its rapid expansion. As part of this struggle, I am always on the hunt for new ways to shift the way I look at the space—as long as it helps me understand things better, while also contributing as much valuable, and open information back to the API space. The With this in mind, the API Evangelist monitoring algorithm is always in flux, with the latest change being the elimination of the “number of APIs” or “number of new APIs”, from the monitoring equation.
I have showcased the growth in public APIs for a long time now, and for a while, it was what I needed to motivate my research and storytelling, but after almost five years, these two data points are becoming a liability for me. As I go through the 700+ companies that are doing interesting things in the space, and generate APIs.json profiles, and machine readable API definitions using Swagger and API Blueprint, I realize quantity or number of APIs has no bearing on my research, and it is just a distraction. Any number of APIs is meaningless if I cannot understand what these APIs do, their pricing, quality of service, terms of these services, and easily match with my own business objectives—elements I’m working hard to define, and quantify in a machine readable way using APIs.json.
In the everyday reality of the API space, there is no reason for me care about how many APIs there are, a goal that comes bundled with the desire to chase new APIs, in support of this metric. Sure I want to be informed about new, and interesting APIs that come into the space, but chasing them in the support of some data point, that actually has no bearing on my research, is a waste of my time. When you couple this with my struggles to keep up with “dark APIs”, the APIs that are driving mobile applications, and the dizzying number of private APIs that startups, up to the enterprise, are deploying—it is game over, I just don’t think you can quantify it (or at least I’m not the guy to do it).
To better help me understand these data points, I asked Jakub Nesetril (@jakubnesetril) the CEO of Apiary, where their numbers are—how many APIs are lit up on the API design and collaboration platform? He said, "It has crossed 130,000 APIs a couple weeks ago”. I’m sure I can get similar counts from other API providers, but ultimately it doesn’t do anything for me. what then? More APIs doesn’t do API Evangelist any good. Being able to find the most valuable, and interesting APIs, is what I’m looking for. I’m driven to find stories of successful and interesting APIs, to evolve my API design, deployment, management, discovery, monetization, and integration strategy and storytelling—there are only so many APIs I can look at. I'm looking for the interesting conversations going on around the most important APIs, that platforms like Apiary are powering.
Until an API provider does something interesting, or someone does something interesting with an API, that API doesn’t exist to me-there is no reason for me to chase any API, until it stands out in one of these ways. However, this is just my perspective, in relationship to my own goals. However, where it begins to apply more universally, and provides something that I think API consumers could walk away with, is that an API really doesn’t mean anything, until it is actually being used.
I was talking with John Sheehan, the CEO of Runscope over the weekend, and the common question came up, “What are some of the interesting APIs you are seeing out there”? To which John replies, “None of them, until they are used in your app”! I think John’s answer reflects this seismic shift for me in 2015, which is the year I stop counting and referencing the number APIs in the space, and chasing new APIs in support of this delusion and work harder to find, design, and share the most important API definitions that I possibly can.