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I first wrote about interactive API documentation with Posterous’s new API area in June 2011, then the follow-up when Mashery deployed their own version called I/O Docs in July 2011.

Smart, interactive or I/O API documentation is an evolution of API documentation from static and often boring documentation, to more interactive and real-time experience, allowing you to make live calls against an API while also browsing the documentation that explains how it operates.

Peter Gruenbaum of SDK Bridge has surveyed and done exhaustive research on what developers say about API documentation and web API documentation best practices, proving that up to date, and complete documentation can be very successful in helping developers get up and running using an API.

The API Service Provider, 3Scale has stepped up with their own interactive API documentation for users of their platform using Swagger, an open-source framework that lets developers learn, play, test and debug each element of an API in real-time.

There are 3 main benefits for API owners coming from adopting Swagger:

  • Automated, consistent generation of clean, beautiful, interactive API documentation
  • Generation of client code and SDK in Scala, Java, Javascript, Ruby, PHP, and Actionscript 3
  • Feeding into an industry wide API discovery language that both developers and non-developers can use

While many companies are providing API explorers for their developers to make live calls against their APIs, I think interactive documentation holds more value in educating developers about APIs, while also allowing them to make real-time calls. My feeling is that this makes some tough concepts stickier while trying to understand and integrate with an API.

Visit the 3Scale site for more information on using their API management platform for deploying interactive documentation, using Swagger, for your APIs.

Disclosure:  I have consulted with 3Scale on industry strategy several times.




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