What is API Search and Discovery

It was interesting to approach API search and discovery with a blank slate. When we got APis.io back, both APIs.json and API Commons were fairly dormant, and adoption has been minimal. Partly due to our collective lack of investment, but also due to the state of the API space. It isn’t just APIs.io—ProgrammableWeb is gone. Real or perceived, there just doesn’t appear to be any money in API search and discovery, or at least not the kind of money that investors are interested in. Collectively, we can all agree that API discovery is important, but as a market, we haven’t found a way to sustain search in any way that benefits the API economy.

We need to be able to find our own APIs. We need to be able to find other people’s APIs. And, we need to have our APIs found (in most cases). So why hasn’t API discovery been “solved”? Long story short—money. There are numerous things in the world of technology that have value, but don’t generate enough value to capture the attention of investment. API discovery is one of these things. It is needed, but because it doesn’t quite fit with the way the web was monetized, and the investment realm and those who do the bidding of the investment realm lack any imagination or desire to experiment when it comes to how we find APIs. There have been lots of attempts to move API search and discovery forward, but nothing sustainable has managed to rise above the noise of the sausage machine.

I’ve spent a lot on API discovery over the years, but this round I wanted to spend a moment thinking more about who is doing the searching of API, and what their incentives are, because I know that the way I see things isn’t always in alignment with the realities on the ground.

  • Looking For APIs to Consume - Developers and non-developers looking for APIs to use in their applications integrations.
  • Looking For APIs to Sell Something To - API service and tooling providers generating leads and getting you hooked on them.
  • Looking For APIs to Research - A wide range of folks trying to understand the world of APIs for business or other purposes.
  • Make APIs They Produce Discoverable - API producers making their own private and public APIs are discoverable via search.

There are other reasons people look for APIs. Ideally developers are looking for existing APIs before they develop a new one, people like me writing stories, but I feel like these four buckets represent the majority of why APIs need to be found. It also possesses the nuance that it isn’t always developers looking for APIs, which is something people tend to be ignorant of—it shows in their API portal experience. However, I think this reflects the technologists view of API search and discovery, making the mistake that people are looking for APIs, when they are really looking for business solutions to technological symptoms of larger enterprise or industry illnesses. While producing the APIs for APIs.io, I am using these four personas as my North Star. I will even flesh them out more and add them to the APIs.json for APIs.io. I’ll ask regularly if my APIs are meeting the needs of these consumers, and iterate and evolve them based upon my understanding of what these three groups are needing. I feel like most historical API search and discovery efforts focused on #1 and #2 on this list, cause it is where the direct revenue is seen, where the #3 bucket is actually just as important, but the revenue is as evident, and represents the longer term viability of the space, and most investment is interested in the short-term gains.

I think that API service providers have invested heavily in API discovery (ie. ProgrammableWeb). However, I think that the tractor beam of their own products is too great to actually think outside of the box, but also struggle to understand API search and discovery beyond the portal or gateway. API discovery is something that isn’t just “unbundled”, it has to be baked into operations, and something that is monetized in ways that reflect the needs of both API producers and consumers. I am not sure what that is yet, but will be doing some more deep thinking on the subject. I am curious to understand more deeply about how to make API discovery and search sustainable, and I think how it makes money will be a key part of this.