Seeing API Consumers As Just The Other Ones

As API providers, it can be easy to find ourselves in a very distant position from the consumers of our APIs. In recent weeks I have been studying the impacts of behavioral approaches to putting technology to work, something that has led me to the work of Max Meyer, and his Psychology of the Other-One (1921). I haven’t read his book yet, but have finished other works citing his work on how to “properly” study how animals (including humans) behave. While the psychological impact of all of this interests me, I’m most interested in how this perspective has amplified and driven how we use technology, and specifically how APIs can be used to create or bridge the divide between us (API providers) and our (API consumers).

While web and mobile technology is often portrayed as connecting and bringing people together, it also can be used to establish a separation between providers and consumers. We often get caught up in the scale and growth of delivering API infrastructure, and we forget that our API consumers are humans, and we can end up just seeing them as personas, humans, or just a demographic. Of course, as API providers, we can’t be expected to make a direct connection with every single consumer, but we also have to be wary of becoming so distant from their reality that we can’t make a connection with them at all. Leaving our products, services, and tooling something that doesn’t serve them in any way, and we fail to meet our own business objectives behind what we were building in the first place.

There will aways be some distance between API provider and consumer. However, we have to regularly work to narrow this divide, otherwise negative forces can make their way in between us and consumers. If we simply see your API consumers and end-users as the “other ones”, it will make supporting, and investing in their success much more difficult. Trust with API consumers, and the end-users of the applications they develop is tough to achieve, and even harder to maintain-—something that is increasingly more difficult when you simply see them as the other ones, those over there, and just nameless faceless database entries. It is our job as API community managers, customer success engineers, evangelists, and marketers to ensure that this all to common divide doesn’t grow between us and our consumers.

Technology has the potential to bring us together, and connect us in many new and interesting ways-—APIs are at the center of this technological evolution. However, without the proper care and attention, it also has the potential to push us further apart. Dehumanizing people along the way, and reducing them simply to database entries or just a series of transactions. As evangelists, we can’t let this happen. We have to work extra hard to get to know our consumers, and reach out to better understand who they are, what they need, and ensure we are in tune with their view of the API resources we are making available. This is something that applies to our intentional, unintentional, and malicious API consumers. The more visibility we have into who our API consumers are, and what they are up to, the more success we will have in achieving our objectives, and sensibly scaling our communities-—keeping the balance between us the API provider, and our consumers, and seeing them as more than just the “other ones”.