Your APIs Are An Invasive Species

We tend to look at APIs as something we opt into. As an API consumer we choose to integrate with these external APIs. We made a conscious decision to put an API to work. We navigate our way to their API portals, learn about an API from its documentation, and take back what we know along with a handful of URIs, and bake the APIs into our internal systems and applications. When in reality we are just worker bees sent to find pollen, and bring the pollen back to the hive, unaware that the pollen contains an invasive species, and rarely do we ever think too deeply about why we are doing all of this–just following orders.

We are told by our coworkers, the tech blogosphere, and by API providers that we need these things. Often times we are enticed with dreams of striking it rich, and that we are mining a platform for its riches, but really we are being mined by the platform, making it richer. Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Google, and other platforms want us to think APIs are democratizing, and that we are being empowered. There is always light at the end of the tunnel for the free labor we do as API consumers, and application developers. Along this journey, rarely do we realize the data we giving away, the free labor we’ve offered up without ever being asked, and how we’ve done the heavy lifting for this invasive, disruptive species we’ve invited into our lives. Once embedded, this species is surveilling, extracting, and taking what it needs, only giving back what it needs to keep its host alive.

We’ve been tricked by the API mirror. We look at it and see ourselves, and listen to the stories and myths that we tell ourselves, as we read they hype in the tech blogosphere, and on the Redditz and Githubz. We seek out the machine, do the work to integrate it into our lives, then we evangelize it’s spread to our friends, neighbors, and clients. It doesn’t matter how the host machine morphs, changes, acquires, evolves, and deprecates. We keep doing the work. We keep inviting more of the invasive species into our homes. As we convince our application users to invite the invasive species into their lives, at first it was just one, now it’s hundreds, and next year it will be thousands of them, infecting every corner of our personal and professional existence. When will we stop and ask ourselves if this is worth it? When will we stop doing the work for them, and realize where this is all leading? The invasive species are only growing stronger, and consolidating, eventually we won’t be able to say no, we will be forced to do their bidding, and let them have their way in our homes, businesses, and public space.

Note: If my writing is a little dark this week, here is a little explainer–don’t worry, things will back to normal at API Evangelist soon.