Netflix Storytelling And Why You Should Tell Stories of Your Platform

The mission of API Evangelist is centered around telling stories from the API space, shedding light on the innovative things developers and API providers are doing across all business sectors.

Over the holidays I rolled my history of APIs series into its own section. It can be very difficult to understand who the players were in the API game, last year, let alone 10 years ago. If there aren’t stories about what happened in 2001, it can be very difficult to piece together the history.

In 2012 I also scaled up my API monitoring system to track the blogs and tweets of over 1000 APIs, providing a way for me to track activity across the space and establish my own API ranking system resulting in what I cal the API Stack. This too is very dependent on API owners telling or sharing stories around their operations.

I’m tracking on over 1500 APIs and only 1000 have blogs and Twitter accounts. With very few other signals to follow, such as stories in the blogosophere, social bookmarks on Hacker News and Reddit or QA on Quora or Stack Overflow--there isn’t much to discover about these potentially valuable APIs.

At first, I felt there was a flaw in the way I track on APIs. If an API offers value, but there are no stories for me to track on, it won’t show up on my radar--leaving me feeling my approach could be flawed.

On the flip side, going into 2013 I am eager to find “new” stories of APIs, feeling like I’m constantly telling stories of Amazon and Netflix--contrasting this with the lack of stories around 500 of my APIs, I felt there is an important link. There is a reason I tell so many stories about Netflix isn't chance, it is because Netflix shares so much about its operations, providing fuel for my analysis and storytelling.

To shed light on this, I sat down with Daniel Jacobson (@daniel_jacobson), Director of Engineering for APIs at Netflix and asked him, “Why does Netflix share so many stories about their operations?”

It is very similar to why I tell stories on API Evangelist.  Daniel asys it can be very positive to think about things, anticipating that you will share publicly, forcing you to see things in a different light. That process can be very healthy, even without considering the after-effects of publicly sharing.

Ultimately Netflix shares its stories publicly to set itself as a thought leader, providing a marketing vehicle for the company when stories get picked up by TechCrunch or Mashable, but also sending signals to the world that Netflix is innovating and is a great place to work--additionally providing a valuable talent acquisition engine in a time when competition for talent is high. Look at posts from Daniel, on sites like ProgrammableWeb. What do you see in the last sentence...”we are hiring!”

Next I asked Daniel how, or if they measure and reported on the return on investment (ROI) from their public storytelling--number of hires, pageviews, syndication, etc. He providing me with another link to talent acquisition--that ultimately they don’t track on this, its based upon the response they get publicly and the feeling in their gut after each story is released into the wild.

Daniel related this approach to strorytelling with their internal culture of freedom and responsibility. When you work at Netflix, there is NOT a lot of management and control, the culture is centered around good judgement, communication, impact, curiosity, innovation, courage, passion, honesty and selflessness. In my opinion all qualities that can lead to good storytelling.

The Netflix storytelling process isn’t a PR stunt. Its truly about a genuine desire to share the story of their operations, the successes and failures--demonstrating their expertise and thought leadership not just in the movie and TV industry, but across the technology sector.

API Evangelist is my learning and storytelling platform. It is rooted in my learning in real-time, and my desire to share these thoughts, in hopes others can learn along with me. I’m not seeking pageviews, I just want to share my view of the space, showcase the good and bad across all sectors, helping lead, in hopes that I can contribute to making the space as healthy as possible.

As an API provider, your blog, social networks, QA and forum activity is not just a PR mouthpiece. It is how you will tell the stories around your platform, how you will share the value you deliver--educating users, developers and the public at large that you exist, and that what you are doing matters.

Without stories, your platform won’t matter now or in the future--no matter how amazing your technology is.