2011 API Trends: Spotted By The Experts

Adam DuVander
Dec. 28 2011, 10:01AM EST

As we look back at 2011, it was a big year for APIs. We passed both the 3,000 API and 4,000 API marks within six months. In our discussions with various companies, it seems like APIs are becoming a bigger part of their online and mobile strategies. We reached out to several industry experts to highlight what API stories were on their radar this year. From big companies launching developer programs to the undeniable technical preferences of developers, these were the trends in 2011.

Big Companies Launch APIs

Marc Mezzacca, NextGen Shopping:
"Larger companies, enterprises and government not directly involved in tech (e.g., AMEX Open, USA Today, etc.) opening up some of their data by offering open APIs as well as showing support for the API community."

Daniel Jacobson, Netflix:
"More companies are moving forward with APIs that are central to their digital strategies. In many of these cases, companies are giving stronger consideration to private and partner audiences than to a public API offering."

Randi Barshack, Mashery:
"Words/concepts like 'hackathon' are becoming more and more part of the business vernacular and we have seen a big uptake in corporations who are willing to release APIs into the 'wild' at very least as a test to see what happens when an API is open"

We're Getting More Social

Daniel Jacobson, Netflix:
"Social has been big in 2011, and that is no different for APIs. More companies are taking advantage of social APIs (from providers such as Facebook and Twitter) to create richer experiences in their own web sites and apps. This represents a different form of internalizing APIs, where companies are consuming from them instead of, or in addition to, producing them."

Guillaume Balas, 3Scale:
"We see confirmation of the social APIs trend that PW had identified: Social Media APIs have occupied the front of the 3scale scene in 2011 with numerous launches of APIs such as Viadeo.com, Peekyou.com, Peoplebrowser.com and a few others to become public in a few weeks."

Marc Mezzacca, NextGen Shopping:
"Continued rapid growth in Social related APIs and mashups. Continuance of e-commerce companies trying to find the right mix of social and shopping to further entice users to engage their social networks around brands and products."

Melody Clark, ProgrammableWeb content editor
"Select social sharing and networking sites and apps that let the users choose who they share things with - private social networking."

API as a Business Tool

Guillaume Balas, 3Scale:
"In 2011 several 3scale's customers have been focusing on generating additional revenues for their business via their API. This happened through establishing and developing strong relationship with business partners and ensuring the best user experience possible as well as excellent QoS."

Randi Barshack, Mashery, shares findings from a recent survey:
"Our biggest news here verification of our hypothesis that APIs are gaining increasingly more relevance in 'business' dialogues. Nearly 70% (68.6%) of respondents to our survey say that the "main owner" of the API program comes from business (defined as Executive Management (22.6%), Business Unit (14.5%) or Product Manager (31.5)). Conversely, only 23.4% said that their API program main owner was within the company's IT department.

"As a further proof point, 51% of respondents said that APIs are a topic of discussion in Board Meetings. 77% in management meetings and 17.5% even said they are topic of discussions on earnings calls!"

Tim Falls, SendGrid:
"In the last year or so we've seen a proliferation of developer communities springing up around APIs alone. With the success of these 'API communities' (Twilio = case in point), we see more and more startups launching with APIs as their sole product offering (e.g., FullContact - they are '*the* API for keeping your contacts current'). And as these companies launch with an API as their product, their business model is virtually fully dependent on developers integrating their API into new or existing applications. Given this heavy dependence on developer adoption, the most pressing business effort for a startup such as FullContact is to quickly and aggressively build a strong community of developers around their API(s)."

Delyn Simons, Mashery:
"Drink your own Champagne – rise of Partner, closed APIs"

Daniel Jacobson, Netflix:
"Some of the big tech leaders have been more aggressive about more closely aligning their APIs towards their internal business strategies. Twitter, for example, shut down some features in their public APIs and ultimately bought some of the more successful third-party applications (such as Tweetie and TweetDeck) to align them closer to their product strategy. Google revisited the value proposition around some of their public APIs and decided to shut some of them down. Netflix, meanwhile, has been actively redesigning its API to better support its branded streaming applications, putting more emphasis towards private API consumers than the public developer community. I don’t think that public APIs are going away any time soon, but I do think that some of the industry leaders have been changing the way they think about their API strategies and what those strategies mean for their business. This could ultimately result in some very interesting changes to the larger API market in 2012."

Improving Documentation

Wendell Santos, ProgrammableWeb Analyst
"We've seen an increase in 'try it' functionality within documentation. Many of the APIs hosted by Mashery come to mind but I've started to see others that have a live console to allow developers to get a feel for the API before actually using it. Hopefully this signals a larger trend towards improved and open documentation as I know a lot of developers out there have complained about that."

Delyn Simons, Mashery:
"Interactive API Documentation – integrating API docs with test tool functionality"

Guillaume Balas, 3Scale:
"Focus on the developer / partner user experience, ease of use of the API and transparency are all increasing amongst API providers, with a realisation that APIs are becoming a critical business channel and hence have to serve their audiences well."

REST, JSON and OAuth Are In

Daniel Jacobson, Netflix:
"REST and JSON have taken off. More companies have been following the leaders in these respects, primarily because the leaders have well-established implementations that are seeing significant traffic."

Guillaume Balas, 3Scale:
"Open Auth is gaining traction – in particular OAuth 2.0 despite some concerns about finalisation of the standard. The pattern is becoming the preferred means for third party user identification.

"SOAP APIs are a declining percentage of Web APIs. Less than 10% of requests to us involve SOAP APIs and when they do there are often parallel REST APIs in development. This percentage was higher in 2010 (around 25%)."

Delyn Simons, Mashery:
"Push Notifications – Webhooks, Push Alerts"

Romin Irani, ProgrammableWeb blogger:
"JSON over XML, OAuth as a security standard is gaining widespread acceptance and Javascript client libraries."

What Do You Think?

Do you agree with the experts? Got something they missed? Let us know in the comments.

Adam DuVander Hi! I'm Developer Communications Director for SendGrid and former Executive Editor of ProgrammableWeb. I currently serve as a Contributing Editor. If you have API news, or are interested in writing for ProgrammableWeb, please contact editor@programmableweb.com Though I'm a fan of anything API-related, my particular interest is in mapping. I've published a how-to book, Map Scripting 101, to get anyone started making maps on websites. In a not-so-distant past life I wrote for Wired and Webmonkey.

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Couldn't agree more - the increase in social APIs has been clear in 2011 and I think it will continue because the content / services are so intrinsically shareable. Looking broader though, the trend toward business usage of APIs is powerful, since that value in turn allows company to build out more functionality via their API.

On the technical side, despite its problems oAuth is become the clear winner as an authentication pattern for Apps involving users.

SOAP + XML protocols were designed for the Web 1.0 web services.The Web 2.0 web service apis have brought AJAX and JSON REST protocols. The OpenID protocol failed his mission, and multiple implementations of the oAuth 2.0 protocol are now running in several apis. Twitter recently switched from the basic oAuth 1.0 to oAuth 2.0 and the new born xAuth protocol. Facebook has its own oAuth 2.0 implementation. And there are a lot of oAuth implementation not fully 100% compliant with the oAuth 2.0 specification.

Thanks to cloud clustered services (aws, appengine, etc) it's now possible to build up an api service on demand, having a scalable architecture behind the api.
No wired infrastructure is needed, no machine reboot is necessary anymore, just a monitoring tool on your cloud service and - with a little tunning - it will do everything you need for you infrastructure for you. This is pretty amazing.

So thanks to these backend services, new startups can dedicate their time to build wonderful api. This is a mashup, builded on another mashup.

[...] Balas, CMO of the API management company, 3Scale, described two ways 3Scale’s clients used APIs to generate additional revenue. The first is by developing stronger relationships with business partners. If it’s used with [...]