Why API Providers Should Dog Food Their Own APIs

Ronnie Mitra, director of API design at The API Academy, says that a good API mixes functionality, usability and developer experience. He argues that no matter how good the information, service or product you’re providing is, nobody will use it unless it’s well-presented, well-designed, well-structured and extremely interactive. Kaltura's managing director for platform, ecosystem and community echoed those sentiments in his APIcon discussion (see the full video at the end of page 2 of this post) about why API providers must dogfood their own APIs.

Founder of API Science and of ProgrammableWeb, John Musser said that great Open API design comes when you:

  • Make it clear what your API does
  • Let them get in easily
  • Let them get in free
  • Make sure pricing is clear
  • As always, API documentation must be a priority

Then, once upon a time, back in the early Noughts, Amazon’s CEO went all in on his company using APIs. He sent around a memo that changed the lives of developers forever. It went something like this:

  • All teams expose data and functionality via interfaces.
  • Teams only communicate via these interfaces.
  • There will be no other form of communication allowed.
  • It doesn’t matter what technology is used.
  • All service interfaces, without exception must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable.
  • Anyone who won’t do that, will be fired.

Basically, it was API-first or bust because that’s the only way to scale. And there’s not doubt that Jeff Bezos’ bet on APIs has paid off for Amazon. A few years later in 2006, Amazon became the poster child for Web APIs with Amazon Web Services.

Since 2007, Zohar Babin and the team working on Kaltura’s open-source video calls made a similar determined decision that an Open API must be at the core of everything they offer. Even with their broad range of B2B and B2C clients, extremely customized workflows and varying moderation tool, for more than nine years now, they have kept to that promise.

This piece follows Babin’s story of Open API best practices, first talked about at an APIcon.

What are the best things a good API has to offer?

Now, if you’re reading this, you probably already know all this, but Babin’s list of what makes the application programming interface so dreamy is a good checklist for you to remember when you’re trying to sell your CIO or CEO the API-first model. What makes APIs so awesome?

  1. Interoperability
  2. Flexibility and innovation
  3. Cost-efficiency
  4. Automation of processes
  5. Accessible functionality
  6. Delegation of work
  7. Democratization of data
  8. Marketplace

The best way to test for these things is to eat your own dogfood, “So whatever a developer of Kaltura can do, our partners can do and our customers can do.” Let’s walk through the roadblocks you’ll probably stumble upon as you munch on kibble and how to build your Open API in a way that eliminates them in the future.

And yet, here we are, with most APIs causing more roadblocks than taking down

The best way to lose potential clients? Make them frustrated! Babin says that nowadays, when someone wants to access an API, both in the enterprise and consumer arenas, it usually follows this arduous process:

  1. You sign up.
  2. You review it with business development.
  3. You wait for a decision from higher up.
  4. You sign legal agreements. (Either with legal reviewing or you signing blindly.)
  5. You pay.
  6. You get API access.
  7. Finally, you start building on it and using it.

Not to mention any necessary training. As Babin puts it: “How many people go through this whole process? I beg to say about ten percent actually finish it.”

Jennifer Riggins Writer, marketer and luddite in a technical world. Obsessed with helping tech and startups sell their value to us laypeople, improve efficiency, management practices, and message. Learning something new and laughing every single day.

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