Politics Of The API Economy

I did a napkin doodle the other day at my favorite local hangout during lunch and beers. I was thinking about the finer points of the API economy that I dwell on, and feel are important not just for API success, but also developer, end-user, and industry level health. In this doodle, I'm trying to think about where I need to focus my energy when working to keep the API pipes as transparent and open as possible.

For me, this isn't just an API story, this is a story about the evolution fo the web, and ultimately a story of the journey humans are on, when it comes to defining our virtual self, that participates in the online domains that capture our attention on a daily basis. I wanted to better understand how companies are moving digital assets online, generating new resources, which are often times user-generated resources, empowered by developers. This is a complex world unfolding, and here was my attempt to better understand.

I worked to distill this down, and represent the key actors, and struggles, we are facing as the API economy becomes a reality. Companies are moving more digital resources online, while also developing platforms for users and developers to generate, and work with valuable resources like images, text, videos, and more. These resources (or lifebits to users) live within the growing number of virtual domains.

In the early Internet days, these resources were often static content, but around 2005, during the web 2.0 phase, things became much more more dynamic. This evolution continued with mobile, and is only picking up momentum with the Internet of Things. These resources x domains x users x apps x developers = the units that make up the API economy. 

The relationship between all the actors involved in the exchange of these units, are often being managed by oAuth, but also other more simplistic ways like keys, passwords, etc. Identity is king, of serious value to platforms, but simply your digital self to the average online user. This relationship is heavily impacted by government and industry influences ranging from regulation to patent and copyright challenges, as well as the higher level NSA and cybersecurity conversations that plague the online world.

If we are lucky the resources we depend on, and the life bits we generate daily, are securely stored and transmitted with end-users knowledge and consent, and enjoying a high level of ethics by developers, with transparency at the corporate and government levels. Unfortunately this isn't something we enjoy across the board, and will be the biggest challenge of the API economy.

Access to resources, security, transparency, licensing, ownership and other items I included in my doodle will come into play heavily across this new economy. This isn't just about companies deploying APIs. This will be a real-time balance between platforms, developers, users, and the government, that will have to be constantly managed by everyone involved.