This week -- probably today -- will mark one of the most noteworthy milestones in the history of the API economy. At the current growth-rate of ProgrammableWeb's API directory -- the most relied on of its type in the world --- the number of APIs we and you have crowdsourced into our database since inception in 2005 will reach and surpass 10,000.
It hardly seems like eight years has passed since that year when ProgrammableWeb was founded by John Musser, and I co-founded Mashup Camp, respectively a Web site and conference (actually, an unconference) dedicated to the same target community of developers and API providers. When our editor Wendell Santos put the word out to the PW team that the 10,000 mark was approaching, I asked if anybody could recall which ten APIs we first registered in the directory.
When Musser pointed out that Yahoo!'s Flickr's API was the first (to this day it still has the primary index of '1' in PW's database), I was reminded of how the Flickr team was not only one of a few companies that were ahead of their time in releasing APIs onto the Net, but also of how the Flickr API provoked the founding of Mashup Camp and indelibly changed the course of my personal history.
It was in December 2005, during the last run of the RSS-focused Syndicate Conference in San Francisco, that I stumbled across news that Flickr among other companies (Google, Amazon, etc.) was releasing Web-based APIs. Here's an excerpt from my original chronicle of that life-changing moment:
As sort of a proof point that the most interesting things happening at any event happen during the coffee breaks and after-hours meetups, Mashup Camp was initially inspired by a discussion that took place between Camp co-founder David Berlind and Yahoo! Developer Network's Eleanor Kruszewski during Pluck's after hours event on Dec 12, 2005 at IDG World Expo's December 2005 edition of its Syndicate Conference.
As Eleanor spoke of the many API's that Yahoo! was making available to mashup developers, it became evidently clear that as important as syndication APIs like RSS and ATOM (the focus of the Syndicate Conference) were, the larger pool of APIs that included RSS, ATOM as well as all the other APIs being published by companies like Yahoo!, Google, A9 (Amazon), eBay, Microsoft, EVDB, and others was the big picture -- a big picture that would need an event that was far broader in scope than Syndicate if a member of the press like David were to satisfy his appetite for information regarding all of the Web's programmable interfaces in one place.
It was not until Musser responded with his list of initial entries into PW's directory that I realized Flickr was first for both of us. Since then Pluck has pivoted (that's Silicon Valley venture capital-speak for "the first idea didn't work out but something's salvageable") and Kruszewski is still at Yahoo!, now as program manager on Hadoop.
In fact, thousands of people, some of whom Musser, Kruszewski, and I know and most we don't have had their life-courses altered by the idea of APIs. But every now and then, someone comes out of the woodwork to tell the tale of their own API-inspired pivot even if only in 140 characters or less. Earlier this month, provoked only by his own reflections, Andreas Krohn posted the following on Twitter.
I was so moved by Krohn's post that I couldn't help but respond to him, noting how pleasantly surprised I was to see his tweet unexpectedly cross my transom. Krohn responded:
"The best job ever."
I couldn't agree more. Network-based and Web app-inspired application programming interfaces (versus the ones found in operating systems) are where it's at.
Via email, I asked Krohn to expand on how APIs changed his life.
In 2006, I spent a few cold days in Boston attending a small conference called Mashup Camp. The topic was the programmable Web. The word 'API' was almost never used and 'mashup' was the hyped term at that time. At that conference, I saw a glimpse of a world where data from all systems were available to all developers, a world where the only limiting factor is a programmer's creativity. It was a world I fell in love with. A few years later I quit my job and started my own company to work with APIs full time. It was the best career decision I've ever made.
10.000 APIs is huge, but we'll reach 20.000 in no time, and soon it will be pointless to keep count. Instead we can start keeping count of the companies that do not provide an API, it will be a much more manageable number."
Now that so many APIs have been unleashed with more to come, Krohn's point regarding how the developer's creativity is the only limiting factor should not be lost. When BusinessRadioX's Stone Payton and Lee Kantor interviewed me during the CED Tech Venture Conference in North Carolina last week, I talked about how the APIs on the Web are today's true engine of innovation. Even though ProgrammableWeb still tracks mashups (faithfully offering a Mashup of The Day seven days per week), the term "mashup" is out-of-vogue compared to eight years ago when events named Mashup Camp were magnets for the API-curious.
Pick your favorite platform; the Web, iOS, Android, etc. Today, the number of new applications for any single platform (let alone all of them combined) dwarfs other types of new technologies coming to market. Whereas mashups were practically an anomaly back in 2006, today, few if any new applications are not a mashup.
Today, the API economy has given rise to an entire culture, not to mention a cottage industry or two. A decade ago, no one even knew what a hack-a-thon was. Today, you can't spit without hitting one that in all likelihood, focuses on one or a small handful of APIs (I'm on my way to the MTG Google Glass Hack-A-Thon right now). Forward-thinking consumer companies that recognize how APIs can deliver better market outcomes for their products are suddenly technology companies too. Earlier this year, the Campbell's Soup Company launched an API for its recipe database with a hack-a-thon called Hack-The-Kitchen.
Under various local, state, and federal mandates to open their data up to the public, government organizations everywhere are launching APIs. Many of those organizations hope that developers will take the next step and build public facing applications that give meaning to the data they've been hoarding for decades. On the "dogfooding" front, others see APIs as the key to finally integrating what have previously been non-integratable systems. For me, the many agencies involved in homeland security come to mind.
As the number of APIs grew into the thousands and there was a need to monitor or secure them (going back to the homeland security model), it was only a matter of time before the adult supervision showed up. Today there are dozens of players in the API management space, all looking to give the API community -- everyone from developers to API providers to companies building out behind-the-firewall APIs to ease their internal integrations -- some sense of central control.
With 3,000 more APIs in ProgrammableWeb's directory than there were around this time last year, the API economy is showing no signs of abating any time soon. If anything, it's about to go into hyperspace as somewhere between 20 and 50 billion non-computing devices -- the so-called Internet of Things most of which will have an API -- come online between now and 2020. The impact of this growth will be life-changing for consumers, developers and those of us involved with API providers and API management/tool solution providers.
How about you? How have APIs changed your life? Feel free to comment below. Or, if you have your own story to tell, send it to me and we'll see if we can publish it here on ProgrammableWeb.com.
By David Berlind. David is the editor-in-chief of ProgrammableWeb.com. You can reach him at email@example.com. Connect to David on Twitter at @dberlind or Google+, or friend him on Facebook.