What Makes a Great API? The Five Keys

Adam DuVander
Jul. 19 2012, 07:27AM EDT

We've seen over 6,500 APIs added to our directory, but we acknowledge they're not all great. In fact, there's a known secret if you've spent much time with APIs: creating a great API is really, really hard. There are a few attributes we've noticed that can make a big difference. Yesterday ProgrammableWeb's John Musser gave a standing room only talk at OSCon about the topic of a great API and boiled it down to five keys.

5 Keys to a Great API

  • Provide a valuable service
  • Have a plan and a business model
  • Make it simple and flexible
  • It should be managed and measured
  • Provide great developer support

The slides are embedded below and provide more detail about each of the five keys. Rare is the API that has all five. The first, a valuable service, might be the most important. If you built an otherwise great API on top of a lousy service, it's lipstick on a pig.

Similarly, you can't just staple an API on to a great service. You need to plan it and then you need to support it. Then, if you manage and measure the API, you'll likely realize it needs to be flexible to fit many different developer needs.

Even if your API is supporting another service, it is still itself a full-fledged product. A truly great API acknowledges this by hitting all five keys.

Adam DuVander Hi! I'm Developer Communications Director for SendGrid and former Executive Editor of ProgrammableWeb. I currently serve as a Contributing Editor. If you have API news, or are interested in writing for ProgrammableWeb, please contact editor@programmableweb.com Though I'm a fan of anything API-related, my particular interest is in mapping. I've published a how-to book, Map Scripting 101, to get anyone started making maps on websites. In a not-so-distant past life I wrote for Wired and Webmonkey.