The Paradox Of API Evangelist
10 Apr 2017
I recently gave a talk to the API group over at Oxford University Press. During the discussion, one of their team members asked me about the paradox of what I was advising as the API Evangelist. He was speaking of the dangers of opening up APIs, establishing logging and awareness layers for all the data, content, and algorithms being served up as part of everything we do online. My prepared talk for the conversation was purposefully optimistic, but the conversation also was about the realities of all of this on the ground, at a company like the Oxford University Press--making the conversation a pretty good look at the paradox of API evangelism for me.
I still believe in the potential of APIs, although I'm increasingly troubled by how APIs are used by technology companies. So it is easy for me to slip into the optimistic API Evangelist, over the hellfire and brimstone API Evangelist, when crafting talks with groups like the Oxford University Press. The Oxford Dictionaries API is easy to get excited about, even though I"m not entirely excited about the areas I'm informing them about like voice, bots, and machine learning. It is easy to focus on the good that APIs can do at an organizations like Oxford University Press, understanding that they are mission focused, and will be bringing meaningful solutions to the API space, but I would be negligent if I didn't discuss the challenges and dangers of doing APIs.
I want the Oxford Dictionaries API to be successful. I want them to be able to generate revenue so they can keep doing interesting things, and I want them to sensibly do APIs and protect the valuable resources they possess, that they have invested so much time into creating and maintaining. When I recommend that they do APIs, and log every API call being made by applications on behalf of users, I know that they will use this power responsibility and develop awareness around usage, and not exploit their position--something I see from other API providers. The Oxford University Press is a well established, reputable, and mission-driven organization--I want them to be successful on their API journey.
I do not study and evangelize APIs because I think everyone should do APIs. I evangelize APIs to encourage companies, organizations, institutions, and government agencies who doing good things to be more successful in what they are already doing, but in a more open, collaborative, and observable way. I evangelize APIs because the cat is out of the bag, and we are already connecting computers, mobile phones, and other devices to the Internet, and it is extremely important that we do it in a secure, yet observable way, that is sustainable for everyone involved--not to just get rich by exploiting 3rd party developers, and the end-users of the applications they build.
I can't make companies do APIs in an ethical way. All I can do is stay up to speed, no..stay ahead of what people are doing, and lead them in the right direction. I am looking to convince, and even trick some of them into being more open and observable with the way they deploy technology, be more open and honest with their business model, and how they think about everyone's privacy and security. Ultimately, I don't want people to do APIs unless it makes sense. I don't think we should be connecting everything to the Internet, however when we do, I want to be here to help companies understand the best practices of doing APIs on the web, and help groups like the Oxford University Press be successful, even though I am perpetually being reminded of the paradox of doing my API Evangelist work.