APIdays Keynotes Envision the Future, Encourage API use for Social Good

APIdays’ annual signature event began in Paris today with a rallying call to be inspired. Opening keynote speakers aimed to encourage audience members to strive for world domination or the betterment of humankind, with the end- User Experience always highlighted as the way to win hearts, minds and wallets.

Creating Natural Monopolies

François Bourdoncle initiated proceedings with a visionary talk about how industries are being disrupted by a paradigm revolution. Talking up paradigm change is a keynote conference trope: Already this year, Apigee CEO Chet “Awesome” Kapoor has used the conference stage to speak of the paradigm change evident in creating a new generation of adaptive applications and products, while ProgrammableWeb Editor-in-Chief David Berlind spoke of emergent paradigm change at APIcon UK when showcasing the next generation of API innovation leaders. Now at API days, it is Bourdoncle’s turn.

Bourdoncle spoke of the need to create addictive services for end users, signaling that the emerging third revolution in technology will be about natural monopolies. (The first revolution, he argues, occurred when enterprises digitized their processes, while the second revolution gave rise to the new Internet giants of Google, Amazon and Facebook.)

For businesses to succeed, Bourdoncle argued, market entrants need to be “full- Stack startups” that own the vertical they are operating in and having a clear and succinct business model. Bourdoncle spoke of Amazon’s model being about the ability to deliver goods instantly, Facebook providing instant gratification through social connection, Apple selling simplicity and comfort (with a touch of luxury thrown in), and Google being the king of Internet advertising.

Bourdoncle sees the emerging third revolution as having Big Data at its core:

Big data is going to have a big impact, but you need to understand what it is.

The first idea of big data is that I have the data in my data warehouses and I have to make it speak. It is something to make my processes better — typically my customer relationships — better. That’s what IDC, Gartner and Forrester are talking about when they talk about big data.

But that is a tiny part of the equation.

The big part is about inventing new ways to connect with customers and inventing new products that people will become addicted to. Addiction is the key word here. This industry is going to be very differently organized than it is today. This new type of organization of industries will lead to an emergence of natural monopolies: self-sustaining monopolies.

It was not a particularly appealing model of the future for anyone who doesn’t want to build an empire for a living. Whereas APIs and the cloud have been enabling technologies that have allowed startups to create products and services faster, creating viable businesses that can compete successfully with established, monolithic enterprises; Bourdoncle paints a future endgame where we are all meant to become the next Amazon and “there is no room for being second.”

Tech for Social Good

So it was heartening to hear the scale balance when Mike Amundsen took the stage. Amundsen, director of API architecture at CA Technologies’ API Academy and a riveting storyteller, took the audience through 50 years of technological advances from 1890 to 1940, showing that the iPad, the smartphone, smart cities and a connected workplace were all already invented, just not yet fully realized.

One of the central themes of Amundsen’s exploration of prescient inventors from this time was that for many, the goal was to use technology for “the betterment of humankind”: Patrick Geddes wanted to use technology to help citizens reimagine their cities and the ways they relate to place; Alan Kay wanted to work on projects for societal benefit; Douglas Engelbart wanted to augment human intellect; and Ted Nelson wanted computers to create human freedoms. (And while Amundsen’s historical gallery were all men, he did acknowledge that the IT industry’s earliest programmers were predominantly women.)

This was the aspect missing from Bourdoncle’s future vision. Yes, there are the new giants of Amazon, etc., but there is also a growing developer and business culture that increasingly encourages open source technologies and that values a sharing economy. Amundsen’s world-hopping, thought-leader-focused history survey highlighted what can be accomplished with a focus on using APIs to generate social good and encourage collaborative learning.

Best Practice in Developer User Experience

Finally, the morning's keynotes ended with a practical discussion by Lorinda Brandon, program director at SmartBear, who presented a practical model to ensure high-level developer engagement with an API.

“We are seeing a lot of doors open right now because of APIs,” acknowledged Brandon. “So we are talking about strategy, monetizing, technology, and trying to figure out how to use them in ways that make sense.”

Brandon suggested the six keys to a successful API are:

  • Documentation
  • Testing
  • Mocking
  • Evangelism
  • Management
  • Monitoring

To address all six keys, Brandon proposed a four-step process:

1. Visualize: “API readiness is about getting nontechnical people to understand what your API does, so API readiness needs to focus on both developers and the end users. We need to think outside the developer realm and think about how to make an API visual,” Brandon said. She encouraged developers to avoid a "document war" with product managers and instead come up with a visual map that can describe how interaction occurs with an API. Creating a mock service is the best way to get your API understood by nontechnical folk, Brandon advocated.

2. Validate: “You built it, you should test it. You need to carry out the whole range of functional testing.” Brandon said load testing and security testing are an essential part of this validation.

3. Virtualize: "The best way to virtualize an API is to give application developers a Sandbox so they can see what happens when they make calls,” said Brandon.

4. Monitor: To maintain the API readiness in a business environment, it must constantly be monitored, not just for performance, but also to understand how it is being used and what applications are being created, Brandon suggested.

Interestingly, when an audience member asked how the API readiness related to encouraging the use of API standards, somewhat controversially Brandon suggested that it is too early for standardization: “We don’t need to standardize yet,” she argued. “We are still in the innovative stage, we are still a few years away from saying, ‘We have really got it.' ”

For the rest of Day One, the APIdays agenda included talks about how specific industries like retail and music are being disrupted, while tech sessions included scenario-driven API design and a look at building distributed API architecture at scale. ProgrammableWeb will be live blogging throughout the conference proceedings, and readers can also follow along via the hashtag #APIdays.

Be sure to read the next Events article: 'For a Web of APIs' Berlin 2015 Event Announces Keynotes and SpeedHack Event