API Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Forego Talking to a Person

Listening to an episode of Traffic and Weather yesterday, renewed a concept that John Sheehan(@johnsheehan), founder of Runscope made in an article he wrote for NextWeb back in March. In the post, John walks us through his “Three Commandments for Using Someone Else’s API”, which, after listening to him talk about his story on Episode 8 of Traffic and Weather, I couldn't stop thinking about commandment #2:

Thou Shalt Not Forego Talking to a Person

An open API is a great way to test drive an integration, but it does not absolve you from the responsibility of building a relationship with the provider. If you can’t reach someone, that should be all the reason you need not to use that API.

This commandment comes out of Johns unique experience which spans:

  • Twilio - Experience managing large, successful developer ecosystem
  • IFTTT - Experience being consumer of not just one, but many APIs
  • Runscope - Providing tools that make API developers lives easier

This experiences is what make John’s perspective unique. He doesn’t just understand delivering APIs and managing developers, he knows what it is like to be a developer and consumer of APIs. Which I think makes him either just the right balance or he’s his own worst enemy, not sure--could be both.

Anyways, regarding John’s commandment: Thou Shalt Not Forego Talking to a Person. In the past I have put a lot of pressure on API providers to consider different potential layers of their API ecosystem, and work hard to have a consistent approach to communicating, supporting and engaging with your developer ecosystem. While this all holds true, and API owners should focus on healthy developer outreach, it is a two sided coin, in which developers are accountable too.

The target audience for API Evangelist is API owners, so I guess my point is that as an API owner you have to craft a healthy communication and support framework, but also explain to developers when they sign up or are getting started, that while you’ll work to support them, it is up to them to step up and meet you halfway.

In the hype fueled tech blogosphere it's easy to take sides, rather than actually discuss the nuances of API ecosystems, and give sustainable advice--something that only comes from domain experts like John Sheehan.