Amid Confusion, Venmo Back Pedals Total Shutdown of its API

Mobile payment service Venmo, which is owned and operated by PayPal, abruptly shut off new developers from its public API, which handles payment invoices and distribution of receipts to external web services. Venmo had created confusion after first stating that it was shuttering its API altogether.

As detailed by TechCrunch's Josh Constine, on Friday, the Venmo developer site was displaying a vague message indicating that "The Venmo API is no longer available" and instructing those with questions to contact Venmo support. The company then provided a statement to Constine which confirmed that Venmo had decided to abandon its API. That statement read in part:

We have made the very tough decision to no longer offer access to the Venmo Developer API. We’ve been working hard to build a strong peer-to-peer platform, as well as a new feature that allows users to potentially pay merchant apps with Venmo – unfortunately, with the work that’s required to continue delivering upon these goals, we sadly can’t give the use of our API the attention it truly deserves.

Later, Venmo reversed course and said that its API was being closed to new developers but would remain accessible to developers already using it. The message now posted on the Venmo developer site reads:

The Venmo Developer API is, and will be, available to all existing users and we will continue to support those partners, including Braintree merchants who use the Payouts API. We have, however, discontinued accepting new beta users of the API as we are focusing efforts to open up the beta to pay with Venmo. Focusing our efforts on allowing users to pay with Venmo within select merchant apps allows us to provide many of the capabilities previously powered by the API, now with optimal user and developer experiences alike.

Venmo has apologized for the confusion it created, but it did admit that it will be reevaluating its API. That may lead some developers already using the API to question whether Venmo really plans to support it long term. Some might even ask if Venmo really did plan to terminate its API but changed its decision after TechCrunch's post, which was first entitled Venmo Kills Off Developer API With Zero Warning, started generating buzz.

A Disturbing Trend

Either way, Venmo's handling of this situation is abysmal. Unfortunately, it's just the latest example of bad behavior on the part of high-profile API providers.

Despite the fact that APIs have never been more important and API providers have seen just how quickly developer trust can be lost, companies continue to ignore best practices and, at times, treat the developers in their ecosystems with downright disrespect.

From Spotify, which broke hardware and software with poor API hygiene, to Kimono Labs, which gave developers just two weeks notice of an impending shutdown of its service following an acquisition, there are a growing number of examples of API providers making surprisingly poor decisions about how they maintain and shutter their APIs.

The impact of such decisions can be significant. For instance, Twitter's increasingly restrictive API policies alienated developers over the years, leaving many to question the company's commitment to them and forcing some out of the Twitter ecosystem altogether. So when Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey rejoined Twitter as CEO in an effort to help the struggling company find its way, he found himself apologizing and letting developers know that they were crucial to Twitter's success:

We can't stand alone. We need your help. We have a responsibility to you all to communicate our road map in clear and transparent way.....to have an open dialog to make sure we are serving you in the best way....and to power organizations to transparency ... We need to listen, to learn and we want to start that today.

Will Venmo find itself in a similar situation? Unless the company takes even stronger action to reassure developers in the wake of its confusing behavior last week, it could.

Patricio Robles Follow me on Google+

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