APIs Are Not Just About Mobile, Make Sure You Are Considering The Bigger Picture

When I started API Evangelist in 2010, API usage in mobile phones was the biggest factor contributing to me quitting my job, and becoming a independent voice for all APIs. I was being asked to deliver APIs to drive mobile applications on the iPhone, and while helping run technology for Google I/O I saw an increased need for resources to be delivered to this emerging platform. I knew that APIs were going to play an essential role in ensuring data, content, and algorithms could be put to use in mobile applications.

Even with the importance of mobile, it wasn’t the only reason I knew that APIs were going to be important, which is something that still resonates today. In 2007, I saw the growing importance of social media APIs, and how messaging, images, and video were being made more distributed using APIs. Then in 2008, I saw that I could deliver global infrastructure using web APIs, demonstrating that web APIs weren’t a toy, and that you could operate a real business using web APIs. Then the whole mobile thing was just the tipping point, which demonstrated that the web was maturing beyond just websites, and it would be how we’d be doing business for some time to come.

Every day I see people with blinders on focusing in on one slice of the API pie, seeing APIs as purely about commerce, social, cloud, mobile, IoT, messaging, or other growing aspect of the API economy. People are good at seeing things through the lens of their products, services, and industry. It is easy for them to ignore those people over there, or the other aspects of why leveraging the web is so important to all of this working. They get excited about a new open source solution, protocol, or pattern, and focus in exclusively on a single aspect of how we deliver technology–sometimes at the cost of other areas of their operations, or the future. If mobile is your world, and you are in the business of building top notch mobile apps, then this is the world you see.

I am in the business of web APIs. Understanding the technology, business, and politics of delivering data, content, and algorithms by leveraging the web. I’m not in the business of commerce, social, mobile, or IoT. I’m also not betting on bots, voice enablement, serverless, or the blockchain. I’m in the business of understand how the web can make all of these things work, or not work. I’m always fascinated how passionate folks get about a specific approach, and even aggressive about how they communicate about why it is better than everything else. It is also interesting how they are so willing to ignore the negative consequences, as part of their passionate belief system. You see this playing out at Facebook right now on a pretty large scale–a whole lot of unintended consequences from many good folks believing delusionally in the power of technology, and it a significant amount of pushback before they’ll change their tune.

In my seven years as the API Evangelist I’ve been tempted to keep focused on just government, or maybe just open data, or possibly social good APIs, but I know the dangers of doing this. I’m happy to support folks who are down in their silos, and don’t give them grief for not seeing the big picture. However, when folks shut me down, question my agenda, and are 100% confident they have the answers, I have to step back, and let them continue on their journey alone. There is a certain privilege that comes along with living in technological silos, and I feel like some people I know who are doing APIs in the service of mobile have their blinders on right now and are ignoring their web roots, as well as the web future. Also, they are missing out on opportunities for learning around how APIs being used on devices, the network, as part of bots and automation, voice and conversational interfaces. Remember, that APIs aren’t just for mobile, and you should be ready and open to use APIs for anything that might come along, and not ignoring the bigger picture.