API and OAuth Literacy Is As Important As Financial Literacy in the API Economy
17 Oct 2013
The primary mission of API Evangelist is to spread awareness of APIs amongst the masses, expanding the audience beyond just the IT crowd, and developer community. Initially I wanted to make sure business leaders understood the potential of APis, so that they funded API initiatives within their companies. In 2012 I feel that APIs have hit a critical mass, and while I still evangelize APIs to business leaders I'm shifting a portion of my focus to the average Internet user.
APIs impact almost every aspect of our daily lives from logging into Facebook on our mobile phones to purchasing gasoline at the corner gas station. As API usage spreads across business, the government and the Internet of Things (IoT), the everyday citizen will be using APIs more and more each day. While many of these citizens will never hack on an API at the code level, I'm seeing a need emerge for everyone individual to be aware of APIs, much like they need a certain level of economic and financial awareness in every day life.
When it comes to our world of finances, every single adult must have a certain level of awareness of how our financial system operates. You don't need to understand the inner workings of banking and global markets, but you need to know how to setup a bank account, apply for credit or debit cards, balance your checkbook and pay your taxes. As our lives move online and the API economy grows, our data is fast becoming the online currency on Internet platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, the need for us to understand the mechanisms at play in this new digital economy increases.
Virtually every platform we use online employs APIs in some capacity. These platforms use APIs and often an open authentication standard called oAuth to allow us to give access to our data that resides on platforms to the applications and other systems we use daily. We login to news and media sites using our Facebook login, we give access to our Instagram photos to scrapbooking applications using oAuth and APIs and much more. If you use Facebook or Pinterest on your cell phone, you are using APIs daily.
Much like your bank accounts, you are giving access to your Facebook or Pinterest accounts to 3rd parties, and you don't want just any companies application to make deposits or withdrawals of information without your knowledge. This is where a certain level of awareness around APIs and oAuth comes into play. As an average user you may not need to actually handle an oAuth token or parse JSON, but you will initiate the oAuth flow regularly and potentially import and export JSON data between systems regularly.
In the API economy users will initiate potentially thousands of transactions daily, in contrast to the handful of transactions you may initiate via your credit cards and bank accounts. Yet we have less literacy around APIs than we do about these financial systems. We are giving financial management courses in high school and college, and are required to take them as part of debt management, divorce and bankruptcy cases. Similar awareness around APIs, security and privacy is needed for the average citizen in the Internet age.
When I tell developers or the technically savvy user that I'm educating the masses about APIs, they often state that there is no reason the average person will ever need to know about APIs. Consciously or subconsciously this is part of the current climate of Internet technology and the exploitative stance Silicon Valley investors have set into motion. The Facebooks and Twitters of the world do not want you understanding how your data is being accessed and transacted, because behind the curtain they are profiting from your information, which is the lifeblood, currency and value of the API economy.
I will continue to work for more API and oAuth literacy amongst the "normals", establishing at least a high level awareness of how the API economy works within in every online citizen, helping evolve toward a more web literate society, which will benefit everyone, even Silicon Valley--whether they like it or not.