tasty morsels of goodness on open platforms, developer relations and motherhood 2.0

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

API Ecosystem: Quarrel, Kiss, then Makeup

IMG_5451 by delynsimons
Work 2.0 Hackday SF, a photo from 3/20/2011 by delynsimons
Ben Kepes recently wrote an interesting blog post on The Flip Side of an API Economy that inspired a great discussion about the relationship between API providers and API consumers.

This tension between developers consuming APIs and building applications (and in many cases businesses) around open platforms predates the dotcom boom of 1995. Be it the latest examples of Twitter pulling back on new acceptable terms of use for their API in 2011 or Apple dictating 3.3.1 to developers in 2010, or even back to Skype Developers Program “eating their young” in 2005, or Apple “being a lousy lover” to developers in 1994, the key is to make sure no one party in the ecosystem — API developer or API provider or App consumer — is extracting all the value out of the ecosystem.

If your company launches an open API platform, developers are a smart, opinionated, entrepreneurial new set of customers. They can provide product agility, innovation, velocity, and device/channel distribution.

In exchange for this value from developers, API providers need to provide a generous Terms of Service, commercial opportunity, and services that are easy to get started with and a pleasure to use.

Too many API providers only think of the API ecosystem merely as a means to extract value for their business. But developers are quick to move to new opportunities for value. With more than 3000 APIs available on ProgrammableWeb, developers have lots of options. It may be “developer beware” today as Sam Ramji so beautifully states, but history is long. Lousy lovers of developers in 1994 learn from their mistakes and win developer hearts and minds today. As long as the business model and market opportunity are healthy enough to provide value for the entire ecosystem, then API consumers and API providers will continue partnering in order to create value. Just as lovers inevitably quarrel, the successful long-term partnerships always find a way to kiss and make up.