AT&T Embraces an API Economy

Eric Carter, Founder & Corporate Counsel, Dartsand
Jun. 28 2012, 10:00AM EDT

The community of Web 2.0 startups thrives on open APIs, mashups, and quick time to market for new applications. For instance, mashup up-and-comer Pinstagram (you guessed it, a mashup of Pinterest and Instagram) created its market-ready version product in three days: "[We were] having lunch on a Friday...[w]e went into hackathon mode, and by Sunday we were basically done with the initial version we launched with" commented Pinstagram co-founder Brandon Leonardo. However, do legacy corporations that play vital roles in the web-app environment (e.g. you need a killer network to launch a killer app) adopt the same API-focused thinking? Consider the world's largest communications holding company: AT&T.

First, why does a service provider such as AT&T matter to the Web 2.0 community? The answer is simple: launch! Launching an application across a major network, such as AT&T's, involves critical steps: "The on-boarding process involves creating an agreement, doing network design, integrating with the network, certifying applications, and integrating with settlement processes so that financial transactions can be supported." No matter how impressive the application is after creation, if the app cannot reach its customers in an efficient manner, the app is useless. So, is AT&T on board with new web generation? Yes, but it certainly had to break with its legacy roots.

Jon Summers, AT&T SVP of Applications and Services Infrastructure, asserts that prior to adopting an API-focused mindset, onboarding a new application to its messaging platform took three to six months; "[t]he end-to-end process through which a developer of an app worked with AT&T to launch a new product could take up to 18 months." Accordingly, AT&T transformed its approach to app development and decided to offer "APIs developers could use after creating a relationship in a few clicks using a web interface." In turn, AT&T launched an API program in 2010. API transactions have grown from 300 million per month when the program launched to 4.5 billion transactions per month currently. The end-to-end development to launch process has shrunk from 18 months to 6 months since the API program initiated.

To successfully scale the Web 2.0 community into a robust, profitable Web 2.0 economy, legacy giants (e.g. AT&T) inevitably cross roads with the energetic youth of mashups and API junkies (e.g. Pinstagram). AT&T seems to have embraced the paradigm shift, and now sees itself as an enabler, not the stumbling block of old: "Ultimately, it’s about delivering great applications and great services to our customers, in a faster, better, and more efficient way.”

Eric Carter Eric is the founder of Dartsand and Corporate Counsel for a specialty technology distributor. He is a frequent contributor to technology media outlets and also serves as primary legal counsel for multiple startups in the Real Estate, Virtual Assistant, and Software Development Industries. Follow me on Google+

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