Should We Be Limiting Developers' API Usage?

Kin Lane
Jun. 01 2011, 12:00AM EDT

As a consumer of APIs, one thing you encounter every day are API rate limits. Just about every API has limits on the number of calls you can make against their API. As developers, we accept the limits because in many cases we are getting the API for free. And in some cases, even the rates aren't enough for a provider to get what it needs, as when Google put the kibosh on Translate. Are limits simply a sign that a provider needs to find a strategy that scales?

Some API owners solve this problem of "excessive calls" by setting a daily limit on API calls. If you need to go beyond that limit, you need to ask special permission. Providers like Google have even introduced a pay-as-you-go billing model available for some of its APIs via the Google API Console.

But other API owners are going even further. Instead of penalizing developers for using an API, they are rewarding them for higher API usage. A couple of examples are:

  • YellowAPI.com - YellowAPI.com actually pays users for higher volumes of traffic from applications, attracting "API fanboys," as in the video embedded below.
  • Qwerly - Qwerly social data API provides significant discounts the more calls your application makes.

Of course, not all APIs are suitable for this kind of approach. But it does make you think, if higher usage of our APIs isn’t returning increased value, maybe we need to rethink our API design or our API monetization strategy.

Kin Lane I am a programmer and entrepreneur, with a focus on the business of APIs. I study how APIs are changing the business landscape, and the rise of API driven developer ecosystems. I share my insights by blogging on API Evangelist and ProgrammableWeb, and put into action as API evangelist for CityGrid.

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[...] of leadership from API owners. Qwerly gives discounts on API costs for high volume API users and YellowAPI pay developers for high volumes of traffic originating from their applications as well as sharing advertising revenue with [...]