3,000 Web APIs: Trends From a Quickly Growing Directory

ProgrammableWeb has reached a major milestone by adding its 3,000th Web Service API to our API directory. We've come a long way when you consider there were only 105 listed at the end of 2005. As we've noted previously, the growth rate of APIs doubled, which led to an influx of new services. Below are some of the trends we've spotted as the directory marks a new high.

Time to each milestone in the ProgrammableWeb API timeline:

  • 1,000 APIs: over 3 years
  • 2,000 APIs: less than 2 years
  • 3,000 APIs: about 9 months

API as a Company

We've started to notice new APIs emerging where there is no corresponding service. Or, put another way, the service is the API and thus the company is an API. The Twilio API (a ProgrammableWeb sponsor) is a prime example, offering telephony-as-a-service. Developers pay a few pennies per use to add voice and SMS to their applications. Developers have certainly responded: we list nearly 150 Twilio mashups.

Urban AirshipAPI companies often provide infrastructure that makes a developer's life easier. For example, mobile developers use the Urban Airship API to add push notifications and in-app purchases to their mobile applications. The SimpleGeo API stores location data for developers, in addition to providing business listing data.

Providers Make Things Easy: REST and JSON

REST continues its climb as the de facto protocol for web APIs. There is certainly debate over how many are "true REST," but the trend worth noting is that most APIs simply use HTTP. We're seeing companies with SOAP APIs re-launch as REST. The Web Services Interoperability Organization, tasked with creating confusing WS-* standards, closed operations last year.

In terms of data formats, XML still rules the overall directory and most new APIs still support XML. However, providers are swarming to JSON, as developers request this format that makes it easy to read data into JavaScript (and most other modern languages) without a complex parser. Many are also going JSON-only. In the last year 281 APIs were added that support JSON and don't provide XML.

APIs Get Facelifts

FoursquareIn addition to all the new APIs we see in our directory, there are many old ones seeing face-lifts. Some are claiming complete rewrites and often the changes include adding the popular protocols and data formats mentioned above. In November, Campaign Monitor dumped SOAP. Twitter's Streaming API is JSON only. So is the Foursquare API, which will deprecate its original version sometime mid-2011.

APIs Fuel Internal Usage

TwitterThe Twitter API was incorporated into its own webpage making twitter.com one giant mashup. Twitter's website is the most common way to use Twitter, with the Twitter mobile site and Twitter for iPhone coming in second and third. All three are built off of the same API available to developers.

Similarly, the NPR API is used by several of the public radio organization's websites and applications. Internal use is large enough that it's a major audience consideration. Further, we're seeing many launch APIs at the same time as mobile apps, because the API essentially comes along with the app. We looked more at this in Hey Mobile, Thanks for All the APIs.

With the directory count now flowing into the 3,000s, expect to continue to see the trends above. All developers, both internal and external, need simple paths to Integration. Where that isn't possible, providers will continue to re-work their APIs with new versions. And we'll see plenty of new APIs emerge, whether entire companies built on a developer-facing service, or huge companies, slow to move, suddenly discovering the power of sharing their data or functionality.