Explaining My Work Around APIs In Higher Education To Institutions

I’m needing to quantify the work i do around APIs in higher education for a university in the U.K., so I figured I’d craft into a story that I can share with my readers, and potentially other schools who would ask what it is that I do.

I am interested in APIs in higher education because I feel strongly that our institutions are a fertile environment for ensuring that the next generation of our society possess the digital literacy they will need to navigate and find success in our increasingly digital world.

When I mention that higher education institutions should be incorporating APIs into daily operations, most folks immediately think of a very technical, IT directed effort, which is one layer to the discussion that should be considered, but ultimately it is about developing an awareness, and engagement by administration, faculty, and the students with the increasingly public APIs that surround us, as well as internal institutional APIs.

Our personal, and business lives are moving into the cloud. We are increasingly dependent on web-based and mobile applications in many aspects of our lives, and a growing number of these software services have APIs, and API-enabled actions that can be taken by anyone, even non-developers.

My mission as the API Evangelist is to help everyone be aware that APIs exist, and that they are there to assist you in your personal and business life. Which brings me back to higher education institutions being an important place to expose students, and faculty to the benefits of APIs—in preparation for the increasingly API driven world unfolding around us.

While I pay attention to over a 100 categories of APIs, let’s take one area, photos and images, and use as a backdrop for what I do. I pay attention to over 25 photo and image APIs that provide image related services for developers, as well as direct access to the popular photo and image platforms we often depend on like Flickr and Instagram.

As the API Evangelist I seek to pay attention to three key layers of the API space.

Technology of APIs - The geeky detail of how APIs work.

  • How do I authenticate?
  • Where do I read data from?
  • How do I write data?
  • Where are their code samples in my language?
  • Where is the WordPress plugin?

Business of APIs - The business profile behind any online service.

  • How much does the service cost?
  • What are the limitations of what I can read or write?
  • What kind of support is available to me?
  • What are the long term plans of company?
  • Is the platform and tools well documented?

Politics of APIs - The often complex politics behind the curtain.

  • Do I own my data? Do I own my photos?
  • Can I specify the license for my photos?
  • What are the security practices?
  • Do I have control over who access my data (aka oAuth)?
  • Are code libraries, tools, and other code open sourced?
  • Are the terms of service easy to understand? Fair?

APIs are much more than just technology and when you compare platforms like Flickr and Instagram which both act as photo sharing platforms, but have widely different approaches to the technology, business, and politics of each of their APIs. Sometimes it is just small details that can make the difference in whether or not a platform is the right choice or not for any individual or business.

Beyond the technology, business, and politics I also pay attention to a handful of important trends that are growing out of the API space, to support API consumers.

Realtime - What options are there to interact in realtime.

  • How do I send / receive push notifications?
  • How do I use webhooks to receive updates?
  • Does this API have a streaming API?
  • What frameworks are available for real-time delivery?

Aggregation - Details on API data and information aggregation.

  • Can I get all of my images from Flickr, Instagram in a single feed?
  • Can I publish to one place, and have it syndicate out?
  • What options do I have for POSSE (Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere)

Reciprocity - Approaches to moving data from one system to another.

  • Can I migrate all of my flickr images to dropbox?
  • Can I keep all of my flick, instagram, and other photo sites in sync?
  • Where is the best place to store my photos?
  • Can I transform images when moving from location to location?

I’m not just about watching, and monitoring what is going on in the API space, my mission demands that I take what I learn and produce content that everyone else can benefit from. To fulfill this, I take all of my curation, analysis and awareness, and I work to create rich content that is designed for the widest distribution possible:

  • Short Form - Blog posts on my primary blogs (apievangelist.com, apivoice.com, api.report, theapistack.com, ipaevangelist.com, and kin lane.com)
  • Long Form - White papers and ebooks that get published either public, or in some cases privately for internal organizational distribution.
  • Presentations - Walkthroughs, talk presentations, and other interactive content that introduce people to the world of APIs.
  • Videos - Generating video content, around my research and presentations for publishing to YouTube and other video distribution sites.

I strongly feel that it isn’t enough that I'm doing all of this work online, I’m also invested in stimulating in-person conversations in the following formats:

  • Conversations - In person, small group conversations with team members about APIs.
  • Classrooms - Teaching large, or small classrooms at institutions around the world.
  • Meetups - Supporting the creation of, and guest speaking of API focused meetup groups around the world.
  • Conferences - I support up to 10 API conferences, while also putting on my global conference on APIs called @APIStrat

API evangelism for me is not just about educating developers that APIs exist, it is about bringing awareness to the masses that APIs exist, and they are just the next evolutionary layer of the web that has penetrated almost all aspects of our lives. I focus on bringing an awareness of APIs to:

  • Individuals - Every citizen. API literacy is like financial literacy, you don’t need to understand the entire banking system, but you will need some basic financial literacy to manage your bank account, and credit cards—the same applies in the API space, you don’t need to understand everything about oAuth, but you should know who has access to your bank account, Facebook, and YouTube accounts.
  • Business - More business activity is occurring online, and APIs are rapidly making business data and information available to the average business user for use in spreadsheets, mobile and web applications. Basic API literacy is fast becoming a requirement for many business sectors.
  • Institutions - Over the last 15 years, many institutions have moved online, establishing a web presence, and connecting with partners, and constituents via the web. Large organizations need to understand how to use APIs to become more resilient, agile, and nimble in an age where much is changing when it comes to how the institutions of yesterday are perceived and stay relevant in the future.
  • Government - Our government is required to do more with less, and APIs are the way we are slowly shifting government of all sizes, operate and engage constituents. Federal, state, and local governments are opening up data, making resources available via APis, and shifting the burden of governance to private sector partners, and even the public using APIs.

Helping everyone understand the API undercurrents that are occurring right now all around us, is my mission as the API Evangelist. Everyone needs to understand that APIs exist, and have a basic understanding of how they can put them to use in their personal and business world. This isn’t some grand, techno vision being sold from Silicon Valley that I'm looking to sell to universities, this is about what is already happening around us on the web, via our personal mobile devices, our homes, businesses, cars, and much much more. API Evangelist is about helping regular folks see what is happening, understand as much of it sa they can, allowing them to take meaningful action with the context of their lives.

Continuing to bring this higher education API venn diagram tighter, is additional work I’m doing with in two very quiet, but extremely important initiatives.

  • Domain of One’s Own - A program occurring at a handful of higher education institutions, where students get their own domain upon entering school, which can be used for their projects throughout their academic career, and even beyond if they choose—giving each student the gift of web literacy.
  • Reclaim Your Domain - A secondary project spun out of Domain of One’s Own which is about providing education materials, tools, and other resources for students, and any other individual to map out their online domain, and put together a strategy for reclaiming parts of their digital identity.

To do my work I use my own custom developed internal system, where I aggregate information about over 2500 APIs, 1500 RSS feeds, 2500 Twitter accounts, and 750 Github accounts. From there, all of my short form and long form content, as well as presentations, and other supporting research gets published to 75 individual open source research projects managed using Github. My intent is to make sure all of my research, and resulting data is publicly available in open formats, allowing anyone to fork, extend, and expand on what I do.

How can my research help your institution better understand, internalize, and apply APIs?

You can visit my research on APIs in higher education here:

Here are some other recent stories I've published recently in the area of APIs and education: