API Strategy and Practice Day Two: The Values Behind an API-enabled Sharing Economy

Mark Boyd
Mar. 31 2014, 11:00AM EDT

API Strategy and Practice’s first European Conference, held in Amsterdam, wrapped up late Friday. Day Two of the conference continued to unfold the larger narrative that had begun on Day One, by first showing how APIs are being used across industries (from big brands to banking to non-profits). The day concluded by giving voice to the underlying values that APIs are making prevalent in the new shared economy, with talks by Kat Borlongan (from Five by Five), Adam Wiggins (co-founder of Heroku), and Adam DuVander (SendGrid and ProgrammableWeb).

The first day set the stage with presentations that are often described as an ‘audacity of vision’: Mehdi Medjaoui started the day by challenging participants to take a leap of faith and agree on an industry-wide open API definition, while Mike Amundsen ended it by urging developers to consider a whole new paradigm to coding. In-between, the day focused, in the most part, on best practices and developer skill-sets.

On Day Two, the first half of the program showed how APIs are being used for innovation and market reach — with presentations from Absolut Vodka, OpenBank and JustGiving, while the final bracket of the program agenda focused on a series of discussions that gave voice to the ethics and values underlying the API economy: Kat Borlongan spoke of a personal ethos, Adam Wiggins discussed responsible API design, and ProgrammableWeb’s own Adam DuVander shared thoughts on the values API providers should have when engaging with developers.

How APIs are enabling industry growth: Big brands

While the first half of the day was jam-packed with a diverse program of presentations, a common theme emerged: APIs are enabling new business growth now. On Day One, Laura Heritage from SOA Software had noted that company C-level executives were beginning to take notice of APIs now that it is possible to start putting some real numbers around the increase in revenue that API-driven business strategies are generating.

For any established brand that is still unsure of how to leverage APIs to enter new marketing channels, Eva Sjökvist from Absolut showed how API design had helped the brand better articulate the internal data assets that could be opened up, and created a system that enabled Absolut Vodka to partner with hospitality and restaurant providers and vendors in new markets. Their API allows access to a database of cocktail recipes and video snippets, so that developers can stitch together video recipes, or identify a menu selection of cocktails, for example, for a summer event. While her talk at API Strategy and Practice is expected to be available from the organizers soon, for ProgrammableWeb readers who want to catch up on one of the most talked-about presentations of the conference, you can see an earlier version of the talk from her presentation at Nordic APIs:

How APIs are enabling industry growth: Not-for-profits

Jamie Parkins, Product Manager at the fundraising organization Just Giving, showed how their API has not only facilitated month-on-month growth in new audience reach, but is now also responsible for some 20-25% of the charity’s annual revenue.

Parkins showed how developer accounts had grown steadily since the API was launched in 2011, with around 30-50 charities now using the API.

More telling is that because the charities that Just Giving have worked with now realize the potential of using an API to funnel fundraising efforts into their campaigns, 84% of those surveyed by JustGiving believe API adoption will grow across the sector in the next 12 months. APIs are heading quickly into the mainstream.

Personal ethics

Kat Borlongan, Co-founder at Five by Five, walked the audience through her challenges trying to encourage APIs to be used to speed up data access and communication when responding to the disaster recovery efforts in Tacloban City in the Philippines in November last year. Borlongan discovered that many of the API-enabled technologies that businesses are investing in — usage pattern statistics, geo-localization and predictive algorithms, for example — are still a long way from being accessed by disaster responders who rely on SMS and Excel spreadsheets to manage emergency relief efforts.

Borlongan encouraged developers to take on a solution-based mindset and a personal ethics that she calls “Prototype the change you want to see in the world”.

Moral responsibility of APIs

Adam Wiggins, Co-founder of Heroku, followed this with a discussion of where the Internet of Things is headed, and tried to unravel the rhetoric from the reality. He looked around at the 14 connected devices that he is already using in his home and reviewed the hackability of each device: what were these IoT devices letting him, as owner, do, and could he really connect them to each other in ways that made sense to his lifestyle? Surprisingly, by his own ratings system, few devices rose above a C grade score, mostly based on poor API documentation and limited potential for using the API as-is to integrate devices together or with cloud-based services.

Wiggins believes that hackability is decreasing with modern computing, and urged everyone to “tinker, take control and automate” their devices, while telling device creators that ”you have a moral responsibility to consider how hackable your products are”. Underlying all of this, Wiggins also encourages the YOYODA principle — you own your own data — and IoT device makers should start with the principle of ensuring users can access their personal data collected by the device through a range of formats, such as via API.

While API Strategy and Practice ended on Friday, the discussions continue. The organizers - 3scale and API Evangelist - promise another event later in the year, from 24 - 26 September, in the heart of the API mainstream world, Chicago, while more immediately, Northern Europeans will get their chance to talk APIs this week with a series of events across Sweden, Denmark, Helsinki and Norway for Nordic APIs.

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities. I can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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