What Does Your API Do?

by Kin Lane, API Evangelist Twitter LinkedIn Github Email

After looking at over 6000 APIs, the most irritating thing for me when reviewing an API, is when I have to work to figure out what an API does.  Many APIs just don't communicate what their API does and articulate the value for developers.

Every API should have a quick introductory paragraph at the top of the first page that clearly defines the API in 250 words or less. Many APIs have a description, but it often reads like this:

The [Insert Company Name Here] API delivers programmatic access to all the features available in the [Insert Company Name Here] web application. Developers can use the API to build web and mobile applications using the functionality it provides.

Ok? You just told me nothing. I have no idea what your core web application does, or your API. The second worse offense I see API owners commit, is they get all RESTful on you:

The [Insert Company Name Here] API delivers RESTful access to the features available in the [Insert Company Name Here] web application. Using the API you can construct URLs and GET or POST information to the API and receive either XML or JSON responses.

Ok? You just told me nothing. You gave me a brief introduction to REST. Not very helpful. Often times I have to go to the parent website to figure out what a company does, before I understand the value of an API.

As an API owner, make sure and provide a quick, concise description of your API and the value it delivers. Don’t assume developers are in your head or understand what your company does. When writing your description, give it to someone who knows nothing about your company and see if they can figure out what it does.

I shouldn’t have to work to understand what your API does. Describe the value to me, quickly make me understand how it will help me, so I have the motivation to move past your main page, dive into your documentation and begin integrating.