Interview: Zendesk's Meditations on API Strategy

The Zendesk API is designed to automate and enhance customer support. In the interview below we discuss with DeVaris Brown, Technical Evangelist for Zendesk, how he sees the future of open APIs. This interview is part of a series conducted by ProgrammableWeb and Hojoki (where I work), an aggregation tool for apps such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Evernote, that helps support team work.

Who are you and what do you do?
I'm DeVaris Brown and I'm the Technical Evangelist for Zendesk. Day to day I preach the gospel of the Zendesk API to developers around the globe and handle product decisions for the API.

How important is the API for your product? And why?
Our API is extremely important to our product. Our agent interface and all of our mobile apps are built on top of our API, so we need to make sure that it's performant and expressive. We provide a great service that fits the needs for the majority of our customers, but we know that it can't cover all use cases. Providing an API gives them the opportunity to fine tune their Zendesk experience.

Seeing Twitter restricting their API, do you have similar plans at Zendesk?
We won't restrict usage of our API like Twitter. We encourage our API consumers to build experiences on top of our API that give better experiences for their end users. If that means some functionality of our agent interface is replicated by our customers, that's not an issue for us.

What are your predictions for the future of open APIs in general? Will they decline due to others following Twitter’s path or will Twitter’s approach be proved wrong?
Interestingly enough, it's rare to see a company these days release a product without having an accompanying API. I think in this connected era you'll see APIs become more ubiquitous. You'll need to relate data from different services to provide connected experiences that users want. Twitter's approach was appropriate for their business and future strategy. It doesn't make sense for them to have a bunch of Twitter clones in the wild because it can devalue the Twitter brand. Zendesk's mission is to enable businesses to offer great customer support and so we make our API as open as possible. We encourage our customers to take advantage of our API to increase relevance to their end users. In turn, it will provide a better customer service experience and increase consumer loyalty.

Who do you see as innovators when it comes to pushing the possibilities with what can be achieved with APIs?
I think Siri from Apple is getting there. To have the ability to speak in a natural language and find information about every day tasks is very powerful. Once developers are able to take advantage of the Platform and add more services, then I think it's utility will increase.

Technically speaking, what are API related features you’re planning to implement in the near future?
We're always looking at ways to make API consumption easier and more performant. We're going to develop and release more client libraries to reach our user base in the language they're most comfortable. We're also exploring the option of developing a Streaming API to give our customers an opportunity to be more proactive around support issues. We already have a feedback tab, but we're investigating other ways we can make the support experience more portable for the masses.

Be sure to read the next Best Practices article: Interview: A Look into Mendeley's API Development