Some Very Different Views Of What API Are And What APIs Can Do

I am regularly reminded of the wide spectrum of what API means to any single person. What is API, and what APIs enable, are all in the eye of the beholder, with only a handful of common aspects shared by any single group of people. This is one of the things that make it very difficult to answer the common newcomer question of where they should start with APIs. This is what makes it so difficult for APIs to ever rise to the expectations of leading architects, and API visionaries.

For me, APIs are about enabling API providers to open up access to their resources, and empower API consumes to get at the resources they need to be successful in their every day worlds. Some folks out there enjoy regularly reminding me that APIs are not for everyone, and they should only be used by a handful of sanctioned tech practitioners, to facilitate the technical, business, and political / ideological motivations of these per-ordained--my dreams of enablement and empowerment are nice, but they are just not reality.

I've heard this from day one of API Evangelist in 2010, and I'm sure I will hear it for some time to come. Some days these currents are strong, and get me down, but other days there are the small rays of light, that keep me hopeful (enough) to keep on, keep'n on. One of these rays of light in my world currently is watching my friend Tom Woodward (@twoodwar) work through his world, after the university API workshop I did in North Carolna

Tom has been working through his own thoughts on what a personal API means to him, via his blog. Something that has seriously turned him on to the potential of APIs:

To the folks I talk about above, who simply see APIs as a tool of the API architect, developers, and IT across startups and the enterprise, will not understand what I am talking about. One person using APIs? They see no opportunity. This will always be dismissed as an anomaly. This isn't how APIs are done, this isn't how technology happens. For me, this is API. This is how APIs will enable and empower, and help individuals be more successful in the companies they work at, the small businesses they run, and across their professional existence--what Tom is doing, is API in my book.

This post is just a reminder to me, to not dwell on the people who see APIs as the pipes in which all our digital resources flow, but are pipes that SHOULD NOT be visible to everyone, allowing only the sanctioned class of API elite, developers, startup and enterprise to understand. This vision of API, which is quickly spreading as one popular view, as Silicon Valley continues its shift in focus towards selling to the enterprise, is not a future of APIs that I will accept, anymore than Facebook being the future of the web (OMG, have you seen the amazing things they are doing in Africa, with those poor people -- ack).

There is no right or wrong here, I am just reminded that there are some very differing views of what APIs are, born out of some very different motivations which I do not share. There are many, many reasons why we need APIs, resulting is some very different concepts around what an API is, and what an API can do. I just need to regularly renew my faith in what APIs are all about,  and Tom's journey is giving me one chance to do so.