APIs, Where did they come from?

APIs, Where did they come from?

Wednesday June 06, 2012,

5 min Read

There has been a lot of buzz around APIs of late. Web services as a concept has been an accepted standard in the B2B world, for consumption of reusable service. In the B2C world, web APIs or APIs in short, gradually started to dominate the space. It's difficult to say how and when this happened. The best thing to do is go back in time and revisit a few points in history that made this happen.


2007 - Twitter

140 characters has always been a means of communication, but never was it a mode of expression. All of a sudden though, these 140 characters were given a new power when twitter launched its service. From broadcasts to micro blogging to news to social media marketing- the success of twitter has seen impact in a lot many verticals.

I still remember being glued to Twitter when the Carlton towers, Bangalore was on fire. From news to views to traffic reports, Twitter did put a strong step forward that day in India. But most of this was hardly affected by people logging onto twitter itself. Non browser traffic - desktop apps, mobile apps, SMSes and Widgets first, were then followed by services like URL shortners, picture services etc. Twitter hardly did anything to get all these players work for for themselves. Instead they made one brilliant move by opening up their platform, and exposing an API. Of course there was an outrage in the developer community when they started acquiring some of these companies. But the message was clear. There is so much more that any product/service can achieve by being open than closed. The innovation can come from multiple sources.

2007 - Apple iOS SDK

Apple has always been dubbed as a closed door company. But when it opened it up its iOS SDK for open innovation - it changed the world.

All of a sudden long tail developers became the heroes in the new value chain. Companies started exposing APIs. Native apps, especially mashups became the best way to consume data and services. Companies started coming up with all kinds of incentives to get the API developers on-boarded. Arguably, Apple hasn’t had a great deal of success in India, but the inspiration (if not imitation) by Android, windows and RIM brought this phenomenon to India.

2008 - Amazon AWS

Being such a big online business store, if there is one thing they've cracked in technology, its scaling. And then came the big reward, when they were successfully able to sell that as a service. They kick started the aaS world - with them taking a big pie of the IaaS (Infrastructure as a service) and providing a backbone for many PaaS (Platform As A Service) and SaaS (Software as a Service) offerings.

Operation costs went down, especially maintenance overhead. There was no longer a need for a huge operations team to get a product/service out. This meant that the API consumption became simpler and scaling now an easier problem to handle. There are so many success stories in Indian startups, on how cloud let them do just what they wanted to, and not what they didn’t want.

2008 - Netflix

Netflix has successfully demonstrated the power of APIs. From being one of the largest customers of US Post, the company has reinvented itself digitally. The content available is more than 300 devices, thanks to its API program. Though Netflix doesn’t have an Indian presence, its success surely did raise a few eyebrows here. Who wouldn't want their service to reach such a diversified target audience?

2009 - Twilio

Telcos have always been the big brothers of the world. There is a lot of functionality that they provide to the end users. Most of the businesses have a telco aspect associated, and any telco solution is complicated and costly. Twilio is the game-changer here. All of a sudden, it became easier for integrators to build telephony applications. Not only that, telephony can now be an aspect of Application/ Solution development. Companies like KooKoo and Exotel have had success in the Indian context, and very soon we will see them powering the APP ecosystem.

2010 - Instagram

It's not the first time that an app was acquired by social giants. Linkedin acquiring slideshare was an example showcasing this. But the 1 Billion USD that Facebook spent to acquire a company with less than 20 people, sends out a strong message - that the value these APPs can bring to the table, and the APIs that are enabling these apps to be built at the record speed could indeed be priceless.

2012 - Facebook

The Social Network‘s Graph API is one of the most fascinating, if not the easiest of the APIs to use. However, more than the Facebook API itself, Zuckerberg's company deserves a praise for making themselves a true platform than a service. But as the man himself says, amazing things are yet to come - and a step in that direction is the App Center that they've recently launched. Like with Facebook’s targeted adds, this opens up a whole new dimension to the Apps. Even my imagination fails to speculate what is possible of all the data that FB has and all the data that is being added to it every second.

Bear in mind that APP and API are two sides of the same coin. With Apps gaining more popularity and seeing more challenges, so will the APIs that support them. If you've got an entrepreneurial mind, most of this might not be news. But it is still good to see them as milestones, that can answer a question or two about the fact that APIs will power (if already are not powering) the new social, mobile world that we are heading towards.

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