Survey Says Facebook API Has Most Headaches and Horror Stories

Adam DuVander
Aug. 11 2011, 08:13AM EDT

A survey of API experiences raised some of the largest problems developers encounter, including which companies cause them. The Facebook API was mentioned far and away more than any other in long-form answers to questions about headaches, horror stories and other issues while integrating with APIs. Also mentioned often were Google APIs and the Twitter API. While it should be noted that all three are also among the most popular for developers, there are lessons to be learned in mining the results of this survey put out to Hacker News readers.

Over 100 developers answered the nine question survey in June posted by photo aggregation service Trove. The full results are available from the Trove blog. While the survey had multiple choice questions to get at some generic issues, long-form answers (which received between 31 and 88 responses each) asked for more detail. That's where developers harped on specific companies.

"Facebook, Facebook, Facebook," one developer wrote in response to a question about horror stories. "They release half-baked stuff that doesn't work, shut down existing functionality without replacing it, and never document anything correctly."

Poor documentation and changes to the API were the most common issues that developers noted, regardless of company. But Facebook definitely took the brunt of the attack. "Facebook continually alters stuff thus rapidly outdating my apps," one developer wrote.

Another was more succinct: "Facebook. Everything is broken."

Google also received its share of negative comments, though they were spread across several services. One developer mentioned the Google Buzz API, which did not launch with the service. Two more complained that the Google Plus API is not available.

While Twitter had a handful of negative comments, it also received almost as many positive comments, and more than any other service. "The Twitter documentation is top notch," one developer wrote.

The survey also asked how many services developers use. Nearly two-thirds of developers use three or more services, with a full third using between four and six. There were nine developers who typically use 11 or more services. Wow.

Interestingly, OAuth was also the subject of developer ire. It's being widely adopted as the go-to authentication scheme, but that doesn't make it perfect. "It’s a standard that no one seems to be standardized on," one developer wrote. In fact, if we were to get really general with the survey results, you might say inconsistency and unpredictability are the two things that give developers the most headaches.

Be sure to check out the whole survey if you're into the details. And keep a look out for Trove's follow-up survey.

For those interested in our analysis, we've published our tally of long-form answers.

Adam DuVander -- Adam heads developer relations at Orchestrate, a database-as-a-service company. He's spent many years analyzing APIs and developer tools. Previously he worked at SendGrid, edited ProgrammableWeb and wrote for Wired and Webmonkey. Adam is also the author of mapping API cookbook Map Scripting 101.



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If you adjust the numbers according to the total numbers of devs on each platform, the conclusions would be much different.

I'm surprised LinkedIn API wasn't mentioned more often. It's a mess and not complete at all. We sure shouldn't forget that the more an API is used the more it has chances to provoke nighmares for developers.

I was quite happy with the twitter API, I found it quite simple and straightforward to implement.

oAuth isn't in itself the cause for the problems, but maybe some things were too much left at the implementor's will and implementations differ often from one service to another. You have to adjust everytime.

[...] Web programmable s’est appuyé sur cette étude afin de comptabiliser les mentions faites sur chacune des API afin de tenter de déterminer laquelle a provoqué le plus de commentaires négatifs de la part des développeurs. [...]