APIs are becoming a common standard for web apps. They silently swept by all the social media photo sharing craze in the web 2.0 revolution, and became the defacto way web apps communicate. Now it’s at the point where the phrase “there’s an API for that” is almost synonymous with “there’s an App for that”, and Fred Wilson recently listed API as one of the key factors in building successful web apps.
So it sounds like the concept of APIs must be a new development right? Wrong. APIs have been around for a long time - POSIX, a popular API among operating systems, was available in the early 90s. Clearly developers have long known about the advantages of having an API.
So why did API suddenly explode? The raise of API is more about a new way of doing business than another programming paradigm. In web apps, an API is as much BizDev as actual Dev, and any company that wants to have anything to do with APIs needs to understand this.
Let’s look at an example. Say you’re Instagram, and you want to work with Facebook to have Instagram photos be automatically displayed on your user’s Facebook Newsfeed. Back in the old days, this would involve a team of business development people and engineers working with Facebook day and night, negotiating the constraints of the partnership, figure out the software, signing the term sheet.. that’s no fun. Now, all it takes is one developer and 30 minutes.
Why? Because APIs are not just about how things fits together technically, they are also about how it fits business wise. The constraints, the terms, everything is all there. By looking at the API, Instagram immediately knows that they indeed can post a picture on someone’s timeline, but they cannot change someone’s profile picture. Essentially, APIs abstract away the human element in BizDev.
When you’re working with a company’s API, you are working with the company as a business partner. Without the slow human element in the way, you can develop these partnerships much more efficiently.
So now the million dollar question - have APIs made BizDev obsolete? Definitely not. There are still many unique partnerships out there that need the human element to be defined. But I can say this - APIs are a business revolution. Just like how Heroku, Rails, Node.js, et al. made web development faster, APIs made business development faster, and that’s why APIs are BizDev 2.0.
Discuss this on Hacker News here.