For Every Competitor You Keep Out Of Your API Docs You Are Keeping Twenty New
It is interesting for me to still regularly come across so many API providers who have a public API portals, but insist on keeping most of their documentation behind a login. Stating that they are concerned with competitors getting access to the design of their API and the underlying schema. Revealing some indefensible API business models, and general paranoia around doing business on the web. Something that usually is a sign for me of a business that is working really hard to maintain a competitive grip within an industry, without actually having to do the hard work of innovating and moving the conversation forward.
Confident API providers know that you can put your API documentation out in the open, complete with schema, without giving away the farm. If your competition can take your API design, and underlying schema, and recreate your business–you should probably go back to the drawing board, and come up with a new business idea. Your API and schema definition is not your business. I’ve used this comparison may times–your API docs are like a restaurant menu. Can you imagine restaurants that kept them hidden until they were sure you are going to be a customer? If you think that your competition can read your menu and recreate all your dishes, then you won’t be in business very long, because your dishes probably weren’t that special to begin with.
For every competitor you keep out of your API documentation, you are keeping twenty new customers out as well. I’m guessing that your savvy competitors are going to be able to get in anyways with a fake account, or otherwise. Don’t waste your time on hiding your API and keeping it out of the view of your potential customers–invest your energy in making sure your APIs kick ass. To use the restaurant analogy again, make sure ingredients are the best, and your processes, and your service are top notch. Don’t make your menu hard to get, it just shows how out of touch you are with the mainstream world of APIs, and your worst fears will come true–someone will come along and do what you do, but even better, and you will become irrelevant.
Be proud of your APIs, and publish them prominently in your API portal. Make sure you have a OpenAPI definition handy, driving your documentation, tests, monitors, and other elements of your operations. Also make sure you have Postman Collections available, allowing your API definition to be portable and importable into the Postman client, allowing consumers to get up and running making calls in minutes, not hours or days. Get out of the way of your API consumers, don’t put up unnecessary, outdated obstacles in their way. I know that you feel you know best because you’ve been doing this for so long, and know your industry, but the world is moving on, and APIs are about doing business on the web in a much more open, accessible, and self-service way. If you aren’t moving in this direction, I’m guessing you won’t be doing what you do for much longer, because someone will come along who can move faster and be more open.