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I've been polishing my version of the history of web APIs since I started API Evangelist. Through my research it became clear that the world of web APIs had evolved through several key phases that have gotten us to where we are at, and were essential in making the API economy a viable opportunity. So far my history tracks on 5 key phases:

  • Commerce - The first wave of web apis came from commerce pioneers like Salesforce, eBay and Amazon deploying APIs to make commerce more distributed.
  • Social - Early pioneers like Flickr, Delicious, Facebook and Twitter have made the Internet social by default using web APIs.
  • Business - As APIs evolved API management providers like Mashery, 3Scale and Apigee have standardized the business approach of leading APIs, delivering tools and services that other API providers can put to use.
  • Cloud - Amazon forever changed the way we compute using APIs, proving that we could deploy essential global infrastructure like compute, storage and DNS using web APIs.
  • Mobile - The final piece of the puzzle was the mobile computing device, ushered in by Apple with the iPhone, followed up by Google with Android, mobile phones will forever change how we interact, with APIs delivering the essential resources we need to make mobile possible.

In my opinion, the 2014 API economy wouldn't be possible if APIs hadn’t developed and evolved through these stages. Commerce, social, business, cloud, mobile are all essential to a thriving API economy. Sure there are other APIs in other genres that fill in the cracks, but these five areas are the pillars that not only showed that APIs are viable, but will also be the pillars that the API economy rests on from here forward.

As I track on the API space, I’m trying to understand where we are at, and where we are going, hoping to identify the next phases of API history. I'm keeping an eye on trends like aggregation, realtime, data, baas, reciprocity, single page apps, Internet of things (IoT), and other areas trying to understand what is next. While I think IoT is definitely the most compelling and seems to be moving the fastest, I think we need to step back, and be careful not look at this through a technological lens.

I identified early on that this world of APIs wasn't going to be all about the tech. From an API provider, consumer or analyst viewpoint we should not only consider the technology of APIs, and remember that the business of APIs is essential to everything that happens. While I think there will be an incredible amount of innovation from startups when it comes to API deployment in new areas like real time and reciprocity, I think one of the phases we are in the middle of right now, is the enterprise phase.

In the last month I've talked with more fortune 500 companies about their API strategy, than any other group, well maybe the same as government (parallel phase?). I've talked with familiar enterprise players like AT&T, but have also had conversations with newer entrants like Adobe. There is always a place for startups to innovate with APIs, pushing us into new areas, but it is going to take the resources of the fortune 500 to truly make the API economy a reality when it comes to the global economy.

As I see it, all the phases I”ve described don’t happen one after another, they overlap and feed off each other, and much like we couldn't fully realize the potential of commerce, without cloud computing and mobile--I don't think the API economy will fully be realized until major companies have a solid API program, and working API strategy. As with other phases of API development, this won't all be good, I think there is a lot to be worked out at the city, state and federal level government levels, and important issues around the politics of APIs are growing more critical every day, but I still think the current shift by the enterprise towards APIs will be seen as a significant phase in the history of APIs, when we look back.




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