Four Great Community Features Your API Program Should Support

In a previous post I covered six great ways to engage your API community. It was based on seeing thousands of APIs—some that received developer attention and some that fell flat. Now I have dug into ProgrammableWeb’s directory to find the features that really seem to make a difference. Comparing the top 100 APIs to the rest of the pack, it’s clear that community support is a huge differentiator.

Community featureAll APIsTop APIs
API-specific Twitter account3.79%16%
App gallery5.37%30%
API-specific Blog6.45%42%
Discussion forum12.73%53%

Since this data is gathered primarily by ProgrammableWeb editors, it’s possible that some APIs have these features, though not as part of the profile. However, doesn’t a difficult-to-find forum, for example, have a similar effect to a forum that doesn’t exist? If an editor can’t find it, neither can a developer.

Let’s take these features one at a time and see how some of the top APIs use them.

API-specific Twitter account speaks the developer language

Many APIs support a greater service. Twitter itself has a mostly non-developer audience. Therefore, it makes sense that developers would be more likely to follow @twitterapi than @twitter. The same holds true for most of the top 100 APIs.

Benefits of an API-specific Twitter account:

  • You can talk tech, your followers speak it
  • You don’t have to run messages through marketing
  • You can share API changes where developers have a good chance of seeing it
  • You can talk directly with the users of your API
  • You can proactively solve developer problems in near-real-time

A common complaint might be that an API-specific account dilutes your message and takes followers from your main account. I think it focuses the message and ensures your customers are getting the updates they care about.

An API-specific account is supported by a select group of APIs. Only 16 of the top 100 have it and less than 4% of the entire directory. Those that do have the opportunity to reap the benefits.

App gallery shows off developer projects

By showing off your current developers, you explain the power of your API and convince future developers that they’ll be welcomed. Flickr’s App Garden was an early adopter of shining a spotlight on what developer’s build. The Google Maps API is used by over a million websites, so naturally it built an entire site for an app gallery.

Benefits of an app gallery:

  • Show future developers what is possible
  • Thank current developers for their contributions
  • Point to it internally for proof of API success
  • Help customers find new ways of using your service

An app gallery is clearly a great feature, supported by almost a third of the top APIs. Directorywide, it’s only part of 5% of developer portals.

API-specific blog shares technical knowledge

Like the API-specific Twitter account, a blog dedicated to developers gives a place where you can freely speak the developer language. The best way to endear yourself to developers is to share knowledge, not features. A blog is a great place for tutorials, Sample Code and opinion pieces that will be of interest to the type of developer that uses your API.

Benefits of an API-specific blog:

  • No need to fear showing code
  • Share sample apps that developers can copy
  • Become a technical thought leader
  • Blog about API changes, even the smallest

Almost half of the top APIs have an API-specific blog, but it’s much rarer across the entire directory. If your company is an API, you probably don’t need two blogs. Instead, your main blog is your API blog. In either case, the audience is clear: developers.

Discussion forum helps developers get answers

As I wrote in the piece on API community engagement, a discussion forum is not mind-blowing advice. Yet, as easy as it is to set something up, only about one in 10 APIs does it. This is a place to answer your developer’s questions. The upside is that once you’ve answered it, you have a place to point others with the same question.

Benefits of a discussion forum:

  • Help your developers directly, one on one
  • Create a repository of questions and answers
  • Discover confusing aspects of your API and fix them
  • Show that you care about your API community

You don’t need to host it yourself. Facebook points developers to a special StackOverflow forum. You can get up and running easily with a number of other hosted forums and customer support software. Once you do, you’ll join over 50% of the top APIs that use a forum.

Based on data from the ProgrammableWeb directory, you’ve seen an overview of four community features that work for the top 100 APIs. Curious how the top APIs were determined? By ProgrammableWeb users choosing to "track” the APIs. Check out the top ten most popular APIs, both all time and recently.

Adam DuVander is Developer Communications Director for SendGrid and Contributing Editor at ProgrammableWeb. Previously he edited this site and wrote for Wired. You can follow him on Twitter.

Be sure to read the next Best Practices article: 3 Great Tips to Improve Your API Status Pages