API’s: Opening Up Business and Providing Avenues for Growth

“APIs: Opening up Business and Providing Avenues for Growth”

Panel discussion moderated by Delyn Simons, VP, Developer Platform at Mashery with:

  • Daniel Jacobson, Director of Engineering API, Netflix,
  • DeVaris Brown, API Product Manager and Evangelist, Zendesk,
  • Rich Manalang, Developer Advocate, Atlassian
  • Sam Ramji, Vice President, Strategy, Apigee.

By Cindy F. Solomon

April 2013 Event

Delyn Simons created the Mashery API Network, an open data commons of RESTful APIs and an ecosystem of 200,000 web and mobile applications developers. She invited the panel to discuss advantages and pitfalls of APIs, issues working with standards, and secrets on how to get changes to interfaces that allow meeting implementation roadmaps. She opened with the mainstreaming of APIs by big brands and the ProgrammableWeb directory of 8000 APIs indicating the incredible pace of growth in the open API movement.

Fueling this hockey stick growth are 3 trends;

  • consumerization of IT BYOD (bring your own device) – people rather lose their wallet than their phone these days
  • changing mindset from corporate IT to consumerized IT – From Products to Platform thinking via Jeff Bezos of Amazon
  • Developers are in the driver’s seat – Developers are changing the rules of the game in every industry – beyond technology

Delyn discussed the entire API landscape of strategic partners, public developers, product and support information, commerce, services and “dark APIs” which are found inside organizations, within groups of trading partners, within products, or represent enterprise APIs which the outside world may not know about.

Daniel Jacobson is director of API engineering at Netflix. Before that he created the NPR API which is now the centerpiece of NPR’s digital distribution strategy, transforming NPR’s ability to reach its audience on a wide range of platforms. He’s co-author of APIs: A Strategy Guide and a frequent contributor to ProgrammableWeb and the Netflix Tech Blog.

The Netflix API strategy is in the critical path of the Netflix streaming service. Through this program, Netflix’s user base has grown tremendously, resulting in API growth from under one billion requests per month to more than one billion requests per day, in one year.

APIs accelerated partnerships since at Netflix for 800 devices. Daniel said the breadth of devices creates a problem for the one-size-fits-all API solutions. Netflix had persisted on the one-size-fits-all REST model for quite a while, but given their scale, it become increasingly obvious that their REST API, while very capable of handling the requests from devices in a generic way, was optimized for none of them. The granularity allows the API to support a large number of known and unknown developers because it sets the rules for how to interface with the data, and also forces all of the developers to adhere to those rules. Each device potentially has to work a little harder (or sometimes a lot harder) to get the data needed to create great user experiences because devices are different from each other. Daniel said public APIs are waning in popularity and business opportunity. He maintains that the internal use case is the wave of the future. At Netflix there are 50 distributed engineering teams each building their own service with their own modes and unique designs. Each team exposes various services to other teams and they all consume each others’ APIs.

DeVaris Brown is the API Product Manager and Evangelist for Zendesk. DeVaris growth hacks sales with his API by broadcasting via Yammer.  Zendesk’s mission is to enable businesses to offer great customer support so Zendesk encourages API consumers to build experiences on top of the API that give better experiences for their end users and is not concerned if some functionality of their agent interface is replicated by their customers. This increases consumer loyalty. The agent interface and all of the mobile apps are built on top of the Zendesk API, so they need to make sure that it’s performant and expressive. Zendesk developed a tool for documenting automatically as part of the code process because they wanted developers to document their intent and remove waste. The code documentation, called “double doc”, tool is free.  Zendesk has bi-weekly API deployments and transitioned to an external API to handle scale and deliver flexibility to use internally.

Rich Manalang leads Atlassian’s Developer Relations team. Atlassian has a 125K customer base, an ecosystem of 1500 add-ons in the marketplace, but it’s still a relatively small developer community. Atlassian has a plug-in model that lets developers create their own REST APIs and share them so developers can contribute APIs and deploy them via SDK.

Sam Ramji is Vice President of strategy at Apigee. In his article, The Building Blocks for a Successful API Strategy, he wrote about how both strategy and execution must come together. He said that every Saas product needs an API. They are critical items in the product suite – it’s a customer acquisition cost (CAC) since APIs dominate churn and become bound to code. He suggests designing API’s and the whole development program for near zero costs in order to scale.

APIs enable more apps faster. APIs are in fact lines of business in their own right – and companies have to manage them as such. The API business is a contract with developers who join the ecosystem. If you change the API, it breaks their products. When versioning APIs, don’t change the security model and don’t extend the resources model – clarify versioning support with the developer community. Always maintain a culture of responsibility, standards and quality at the top that will filter down through every employee. Create a developer experience team with real people to look at the API, provide internal customers to give feedback and be consistent. The new default is share first, then benefit. Embrace curation, observe what people do with your API, and hope to get incrementally less wrong over time. Embrace openness by design.

Cindy F. Solomon hosts weekly Global Product Management Talk broadcasts http://www.blogtalkradio.com/prodmgmttalk and Startup Product events sfproducttalks.com Follow @ProdMgmtTalk and @StartupProduct

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