API Docs Are An Error: Bridging Where We Should Be And Where We Are Currently

I heard an interesting statement this week at APIDays Berlin that I’ve heard before, "API document is an bug not a feature". The logic behind this is that if you design a proper API, using proven REST and hypermedia patterns, you shouldn’t need documentation.

While this is true, and I agree with 100%, it ignores the vital process of getting the average person up to speed--simply stating that what many of us are actively doing, and what we currently know is a bug. I work with any folks who barely know what an API is, or what JSON is, yet have a lot of influence and control over whether some very important APIs exist, or not!

I know that these API experts are speaking to the correct path that we should be taking, yet there is very little consideration to understanding where most folks are on the path, and how many forks there are in the road, before we get to where we need to be.

To help those understand the path, think of the numerous APIs in the past with no documentation, then all of a sudden static API documentation was the norm, and now in 2014, interactive documentation has become commonplace.

Alongside this journey the debate around REST, and recently hypermedia has been going on, with only recently getting to a place where healthy patterns are being used across many APIs, not just a handful of demos.

Understanding this will help you see the path that we are on. A path that we can only move down at a certain speed, because it takes careful education and planning to move not just developers, but business leaders down. Maybe eventually the path will be a highway, and at some point a freeway that we can get more people down, but for now it takes a lot of planning to shepherding to move everyone along.

I fully respect those that wish to exclusively remain in the academic discussion of API design and deployment. As this is a layer of the space that I follow very closely and use to educate myself, and pull valuable ideas and information from, while telling stories on my blog.

However, my goal with this post is to help recruit the next generation of evangelists, who closely follow the leading edge of the API sector and where we should be going, but also want to help understand how to build a roadmap to help get the rest of the world, safely down the path to where we should be, with storytelling that can reach the masses.