Tension Between API Owners and Consumers

We’ve had a couple of new API ecosystem flare ups in the last week. one from LinkedIn and the other from Netflix. I’m still working on my thoughts about both of these, but in the meantime I can't help but think about the tension between API owners and their consumers. This tension doesn’t exist in all ecosystems, but seems default by nature in others.

In these flare ups, I can’t help but empathize with both sides and see each others perspective:

  • API Owners - This is my company, our resources and our brand. I may “eat our own dog food” to show I share your pain, but I really don’t understand the developer perspective because I don’t use other people’s APIs, let alone depend on them for my business livelihood. I appreciate the work that’s going on within the ecosystem, but I also have to keep my bosses happy and maintain relationships with our partners and vendors.
  • API Consumers - It’s hard when I can’t figure out an API or find the right info that will make it easier for me to on-board. It’s even harder when there is nobody to respond to my questions. It really frustrates me when I can’t get the access I need to be successful, even when I’m willing to pay. It’s even worse when I spend tens or hundreds of hours on a project or startup idea only to see you build it or even worse cut off my access because you feel threatened by me.

Both sides of the ecosystem can get along, you see it happen with APIs like Twilio, Stripe and even Amazon Web Services. There will be problems within ecosystem, but not all APIs are looking to screw over developers and not all developers are looking to exploit APIs.

I think in the beginning it can be fairly easy to maintain order in an API area, but as it evolves and the community of consumers grows, it can be difficult to find balance and maintain perfect alignment between the owners and consumers goals. But I think through the right amount of transparency and communication, both sides can find the right balance.