One of the biggest problems developers in the Internet of Things are facing is the lack of a common language, protocol or set of standards. The one thing we know for sure is that when you have a seven-layer-high stack and potentially billions of connected devices, the application programming interface or API is going to become increasingly important.
But even then, what if Web APIs are all speaking different languages? How can we overcome that to make sure the glue that holds the Internet of Things together makes any sense at all? Markus Lanthaler thinks he might have the solution (See the full video on page 2).
The ‘You talkin’ to me?’ Syndrome of Web API Translation
Lanthaler titled his APIcon innovation talk “One Billion” for the one billion euros spent every year by the European Union to translate documents into its 24 various member languages.
This is really what developers also do when integrating with different Web APIs. “You are really just translating back and forth,” he said. “And that’s of course a tedious process, a costly process, and it’s actually unnecessary.”
During his talk, he pointed out that he is clearly a non-native English speaker but everyone is speaking English to understand each other. Lanthaler has worked to create and put forward a universal language, like business English, that both humans and machines can read, giving context to all Web APIs.
How this translation happens currently is that, when you integrate with Web APIs, you either go and read the API documentation or you download the SDK, which only serves to “introduce dependencies, co-dependencies and we increase the complexity of our application, and the more Web APIs we integrate, the more complex our systems become.”
From a systems point of view, this complexity begins to multiply rapidly.
Then in comes the Internet of Things where many, many, many more devices have to talk to each other, resulting in an explosion of integrations and those problemsome translations. Lanthaler put the enormity of this into perspective: “If you just have ten APIs, we are already talking about 50 integrations. A hundred? We’re already at 5,000. If you just have a thousand Web APIs—and that’s a tiny number when you compare that to the size of the web—then you’re already at half a billion integrations. And that’s certainly not manageable anymore.”
There’s no doubt that we have to rethink how we build and integrate with Web APIs.