"Twitter, Lendle and the State of the Open API Ecosystem"
22 Mar 2011As such, there has been much discussion recently about Open APIs and whether or not third party developers are wise or foolish to build their businesses on someone else's platform. The concern stems from a number of reasons, least of which being Twitter's pronouncements about the "rules of the road" for its ecosystem, and now Lendle's announcement that Amazon has revoked its access to the Amazon API.
The reactions to both Twitter and Amazon have been pretty strong. And while I do think Twitter is making some serious mistakes with its approach to its API and developer ecosystem, we might be making some mistakes of our own if we lump the Lendle/Amazon issue in to concerns about Twitter. Is Amazon shutting down apps that are poaching on its ecosystem? That's not clear.
As it stands, everyone seems to be stirring the pot and feeding the hysteria around the perils of using Open APIs, or rather, the dangers of relying on them for your businesses..
But it seems to me that there is much more going on here. While APIs may be the focus -- the way in which apps and websites are connecting to a larger platform -- we're also looking at larger conflicts with new business models, whether those are publishing and DRM in the case of Amazon and Lendle or whether those conflicts are around a startup still struggling to monetize its core business. This isn't to say that there aren't precautions that people should take when building on an Open API. But when I hear some of the FUD lately, much of this echoes what we were hearing (and still hear, I suppose) about cloud computing.
Your server or storage could disappear at any moment, because its virtualized! Sure, as would any server or storage, that's why I have plan A and B, and in the clouds I have C & D as well. I plan for failure no matter where my infrastructure is located.
Your data is not secure in the clouds! Security is a concern everywhere, make sure and have thorough security plan that is revisited regularly.
The naysayers are now making their arguments about APIs
Your API access could be shut off at any time! I don't think this is any secret about APIs. This is why there are terms of service that you must read and follow. Your application needs to take this into consideration with ALL the APIs it uses -- whether they're from developer-friendly companies or not, and then operate accordingly.
An API owner could decide to poach business from its community at any time! Again I don't think its a secret. APIs are a form of R&D for companies, this is open territory for everyone to innovate. In perfect world an API owner communicates openly with developers and partners about opportunities in the ecosystem, plans to monetize, and where partner opportunities exist. I'm not saying these dangers aren't real. They are. What I'm saying is that none of this should come as a shock. You build and plan around these potential issues just as you would with any other technologies you invest in. What if Google Apps goes down? What if your supplier goes out of business? What if FedEx doesn't arrive on time?
Open APIs aren't really the problem here. If a company is built entirely around a single API ecosystem, maybe the owners should consider diversification into other areas, expanding their business. The fault is with the business strategy; it's not the fault of the API.
If an API ecosystem grows large enough where business opportunities develop that are ripe for picking by companies or poaching by the APIs owners, then the responsibility is on the API owner to establish a partner strategy that considers and includes ecosystem developers. It's not the fault of the API.
Technology is transforming a lot of industries right now. Open APIs are at the heart of this. This is a good thing.
Open APIs drive developer and business innovation, and as this occurs there are going to challenges with monetization, business strategies, licensing, ownership, security, and privacy.
Let's not blame the API or scare people off from using APIs by freaking out about the dangers. Let's identify the pitfalls, understand their value and establish healthy ways to integrate with APIs, to build healthy business and vibrant ecosystems around them.