It seems like somewhere between the 9,000 and 10,000 mark, API providers shifted their strategies even further toward providing a strong, sophisticated and appealing developer experience from initial contact on. In this four-part series, ProgrammableWeb looks at current practices in B2D from pre-release, through private beta, to API documentation and to ongoing developer engagement. Each article surveys current practitioners and includes a resource list for those wanting to step up their B2D game. Dimitri Sirota, Senior Vice President at CA Technologies and co-founder of the Layer 7 API Management Platform, recently told ProgrammableWeb that among businesses, "Interest in APIs as an abstraction layer and for exposing data has grown. It has become the way to make data consumable." As a result, Layer 7 has established the API Academy, a dedicated team within the management platform's operations aimed at sharing best practices so that businesses don't end up developing messy APIs or, as Sirota puts it, "so they don't end up building the toilet in the kitchen."
API Developer Onboarding Matures and Segments
Over recent years, Sirota has seen the maturing of the API economy and notes: "Increasingly, companies are trying to go direct to developers as a channel for the sale of technology and the datasets. IT companies, data providers, data aggregators: everyone's chasing developers, they are the lynchpin to the smart device. Being able to express and share data with developers is crucial." Industry commentators like Mehdi Medjaoui - organizer of APIdays and founder of Webshell - believes that as B2D onboarding matures, providers must "analyze the need for access to the data asset, and then release an API that fits that target market segment," he told ProgrammableWeb. There still may be a leadership pack among business that can both identify their data assets and market to specific developer communities, but industry players like Sam Shillace (Senior VP of Engineering at Box.com) argue that for industry, this gap is fast-closing: "In five years, for any Web service, if you don’t have an API that developers can program against, then it is broken,” he said (and was quickly retweeted) at CloudBeat in early September. Web services - and SaaS in particular - is an industry sector that is all-too-aware of the need to be B2D-oriented, displaying an emerging trend that may soon be replicated across more industry verticals: the "API Coming Soon Landing Page." Pop culture soundbite indexer Hark, Sears Local Marketplace, IoT sensation Nest, and Wave Accounting are just some of the recent web services that have created a "Coming Soon" landing page to capture developers' early-stage interest. "We started as a simple web app and it is a big investment to build an API for a platform our size," Ash Christopher, Director of Platform at Wave Accounting, told ProgrammableWeb. As a result, Wave used the B2D landing page to gauge interest and solidify where API development would make sense in its path to growth. For Christopher, it was important first to focus on a recent UX push and to lock down the service's capacity to scale. "It was difficult to prioritize the API over these features, but now we are ready to have an alpha launch before the end of the quarter," he says.
Defining Developer Segments and Personas
Mirroring Medjaoui's advice, Wave has used the landing page to first identify which developer markets want API access, Christopher says:
"We saw more interest than we were expecting, and there were two main interest groups:
- Tech savvy internet-based services who want to automate part of their financial processes
- Third-party providers who might want to provide a niche service to some of of our 1.5 million Wave customers."
While actively looking into leveraging integration-as-a-platform-services, Christopher is unconvinced that this is the best solution for reaching developer communities. "The downside is we aren't sure of how much of our client base would use a service like, for example, Zapier. The best-case scenario would be to see that the overlap [between Wave users and integration service users] is growing, but at the moment, we don't see that." It is a phenomenon that Zapier itself is aware of. At the recent API Strategy and Practice Conference, Bryan Helmig, Co-Founder of Zapier, told a panel session on mashups and integration that what they see is that there is no one integration that is higher volume. Zapier's customer base is, essentially, "all long-tail integrations," Helmig said. With a clearer picture of which developers would be interested in an API, Wave is now ready to start reaching out to those who have registered for early engagement. "We have forums where we update developers but we do need to send an update soon so our API isn't seen as vaporware, that it is in our road map," Christopher says, adding: "As we move forward, one of the biggest things will be that our API is intuitive and discoverable." The landing page approach helps API developers better articulate the developer target segments that would need an API. Marketing your API to specific subsegments of your B2D audience, along the lines Medjaoui suggests and Christopher is discovering for Wave, is the recommended first step for those looking to use the API creation tool, APISpark. Jerome Louvel from API Spark recommends that the first stage of API development is identifying segments of your B2D audience. Louvel recommends asking:
- Is the developer a native mobile or web app developer?
- Will they know about OAuth 2.0 and SSL certificates?
- Do they work as part of a team or alone?
- Have they already used web APIs?
- Do they need to support one or multiple end-user flows?
- Do they use REST?
Registrations from an API landing page can help clarify these developer personas for future onboarding.
The API Coming Soon Landing Page
In a clear example of dogfooding, Unbounce started with a landing page for its API: "We would be crazy not to, we've built a business on demonstrating the value of a business' coming soon announcement," say Aaron Osman, Lead Developer; and Carl Schmidt, CTO of Unbounce. The landing-page-as-a-service has since moved to a private beta access phase for its API (which will be discussed in more detail in part 2 tomorrow). Still, Unbounce sees itself in its' "super early days" and does not heavily market its API to developers as yet. "One of the best things you can do is set up a coming soon landing page," says Schmidt. "You need an audience and getting any feedback could help you build a release properly." A landing page also helps with discoverability - one of Wave's end goals with its API announcements - because it creates a web asset that can be indexed by search engines. "Developers still use Google search primarily to look for APIs," Medjaoui says. In Part 2 of this B2D series, we look at the private beta API release and what Wordtracker and Unbounce have learned from working with a tight-knit group of developers on early-stage releases of their APIs.