We have reached maturation point with APIs where the three
core components of the web experience – content, utility & data – are
becoming readily available via API delivery. The implication of this growth is
nothing less than the next web. A smarter web that delivers improved relevance,
a better experience and expanded revenue generation opportunities. As the
ramifications of these benefits become understood businesses now have no choice
but to support an API superstructure, the pillars of which are content, utility, development and analytics.
But where do forward thinking businesses begin?
Though APIs have
been around quite a while for information we are still in a nascent
period of growth for content and utility. Amazingly we’re even earlier in using APIs to
optimize digital media and experiences. Can you imagine a fully dynamic web? I know it may seem hard when in some respects we're guilty of leaving the mashup behind with the rest of Web 2.0.
An ambient web calls for strategies that leverage that
ubiquity. APIs are they key to this. Semantic web (or the new & improved
term, linked data) will also have a big role. As best I can I am sharing my
thoughts on how start-up, legacy digital, and traditional businesses should approach
an API strategy for their digital business. I welcome your thoughts in the
comments. The only thing I know for sure is the ramifications of not having a
battle plan are as large as the opportunity for those that do.
Bitly: A Model API
There are many approaches to using open content and data
however unless you create something that blends the core API components
(content, utility, development and analytics) you will always be vulnerable or
at a competitive disadvantage. The best example might be in URL shortening.
There are quite a few URL shortening solutions however only bit.ly marries content (linked page), utility (URL shortener & link), development
(Calais) and analytics (click data). The sum of bitly's parts are greater than it's whole but even the parts on their own are valuable at different times depending on the goals of the user (and the biz dev goals of bit.ly). This layered approach is why bit.ly is a homerun and should be a case study for how create new solutions using APIs.
So let’s dive into using each of the API components of the web
experience together in the manner bit.ly is doing and see what we can learn.
CUDA: The API Stack
Everyone likes to talk about stacks these days so I’ll frame
what’s involved in successfully creating API battle plans within your
organization in that manner.
I'm calling it CUDA because, well I'm a marketing guy and it sounds cool.
Layer 1) Content APIs:
Text, Images, Audio & Video
Since the web is an information medium content APIs present
the biggest opportunity but also the biggest challenge. The thing holding back success
for content providers might just be themselves. Creating an API is but just one
layer of the stack.
The New York Times believes its API will deliver 2.5X the
amount of eyeballs on their content. But how? Depending on unknown third parties to bring you revenue from your
API is akin to a salesman sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. The
content API is your raw material but how you mine it and what you chose to make
with it can be the difference between diamonds and coal.
One problem for publishers is that they have never been very good
with digital marketing or technology innovation. To make matter worse technology innovations have been publisher agnostic. The fact that the Kindle brings Amazon higher margins
on Wall Street Journal subscriptions than the WSJ gets (not to mention the
direct loss of revenue and customer relationship to the Journal) should be all
the motivation needed for in-house solutions to take priority. When it will happen in earnest is anybody's guess.
Layer 2) Utility APIs: Messaging,
It’s becoming clear that messaging, payments and other API
based tools &utilities will ultimately lead to the most creative use of
APIs. We have already seen this around the API fueled Twitter ecosystem with
numerous products being developed off the API and some even being acquired by
or partnering with Twitter. I think this area is going to explode in the next year.
Integrating utility is a one-time deal with long payoffs for core platforms. For entrepreneurs and VC this biz can also presents a quick flip opportunity.
We’ll soon see more transactional APIs in place with the
much-anticipated Facebook payment leading the way. At my own RAMP Digital we’ve
incorporated mobile carrier transaction APIs into a display ad to facilitate a
subscription purchase from within the ad unit. Solutions like this are just the
beginning of the next wave of API fueled utilities.
Layer 3) Development: API Services
In many ways dev is always the core layer. On the path to a
true web of services it will be the innovation that can be built on top of it
all. http://camelbuy.com/ is a great example. Created using the BestBuy API it delivers a wealth of
information and value. It’s a great start but businesses can’t be lulled to
sleep believing their API’s success (and ultimately their own) will be taken
care of by developers earning affiliate commissions or contest winners.
My last company (Offermatica) built an insanely great web
own devices most customers were nowhere near able to fulfill the full potential
of the technology on their own. This is an old story in new technology. If it's too hard for people to use they just won't. This is the human element to it all.
Creative and media agencies will be of little help. Not
until service businesses are built that uniquely understood the technology and have
developed methodologies (with results) will the promise be fulfilled. Without services I’m afraid that there will be no case studies, no evangelists, no competition and ultimately no performance improvements for the web. But why
build these businesses if there are no customers? Or why not just DIY if you're so smart about it?
If anything is holding back the next web it's not optimizing the content delivery — it's optimizing the content presentation.
Layer 4) Analytics APIs: Data
API fed data has already had a profound impact on the web. Google
is making 4 billion calls a day on its APIs (think for a second about the
competitive advantage they have in place in order to do this).
The first decade of the commercial web saw counting. This new second wave seems to be about insight. This game changer is realtime data. RT is going to change everything from content delivery to dynamic pricing models
for ads and traffic.
We are also moving from a browser web to a web where
anything can make a request, not just a browser. This requires new ways of
collecting and analyzing data along with new ways of optimizing. Good thing that
is what we’re using APIs to make it all easier.
The winners in the first decade of the commercial web were
sites like Amazon and Google that focused on performance, user experience,
testing and optimization in order to deliver relevance and revenue. The winners
over the next decade will be those that take those same tenets and apply them
to how they aggregate and develop the content, utility and data that APIs will
deliver. We are at a point in time where we are optimizing how we
incorporate what the web has to offer. Unlike before, it now offers us
Some Previous Thoughts on APIs: