How Top Social APIs Use Social Media

There are over 1,000 social APIs in the ProgrammableWeb directory. The big names in that list, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn and Twitter, are also amongst the most popular public APIs overall. Since other API providers look to these leaders for examples in engaging with developers, I thought it would be useful to see how each uses a common communications medium. That's right, how do the social APIs use social media themselves?

Quite clearly, the most common method of interacting directly with developers using social media happens 140 character at a time. All four of the social API companies have Twitter accounts.

They all aren't equally active. Twitter's own @twitterapi has tweeted over 3,000 times. Facebook and LinkedIn have tweeted around 300 and 100 times respectively. LinkedIn's last tweet was over a month ago. Google makes frequent use of its @googledev Twitter account--admittedly not just for Google Plus.

The real-time nature of Twitter is perhaps what makes it the choice of developers for communication--or complaints.

Outside of Twitter, the social APIs tend not to use each others' services. There is a Facebook Developers Google Plus page, but it appears to have been spawned from Facebook's developer YouTube channel. There is a Twitter API Developers group on Facebook, but it's unclear if it's official. Even if it is, it has the old URL for the Twitter Documentation, so it's at the very best unused by Twitter.

Facebook and Google are each big users of their own networks, of course. The Facebook Developers Facebook page and the Google Plus Developers Google Plus page each have postings every couple days. Developers appear to engage with each network, commenting and using each company's own method of positive feedback--the Like and the +1. While it's certainly not an apples and oranges comparison for various reasons, it's notable (and probably unsurprising) that Facebook's 2.5 million "likers" is over 10 times Google Plus' 200,000 developers that have it in their circles.

None of the companies have a LinkedIn group exclusively for developers. Not even LinkedIn. I've triple-checked and it's still possible I've overlooked it, but it seems LinkedIn does not use its own service to interact with developers outside of its developer portal. With the purpose of APIs shifting toward business partnerships, it makes sense to have a presence on the professional social network.

The age of each developer program may be a factor here, too. Twitter and Facebook are among the oldest social APIs. LinkedIn launched its API in 2009. Google Plus and the Google Plus API weren't launched until 2011.

For developers looking to interact with an API, or providers looking to find developers, the choices of the leading social network APIs suggest that a Twitter account is a necessity. Though none of these developer programs have chosen to have a presence on all four social networks, it's probably still a good idea for API providers to go wherever their developers are--and make sure someone is actively listening.

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

Be sure to read the next Social article: O'Reilly's "Mining the Social Web" a Stand-Out Resource for Social Developers