Learn About The Challenges Of API Aggregation At APIcon In London

With just a little more than two weeks to go before ProgrammableWeb's next API conference -- APIconUK --- is set to kickoff in London, the ProgrammableWeb team and I are very busy putting the finishing touches on the show. Spanning three days and involving three simultaneous tracks that are certain to satisfy developers as well as organizations and technologists that are somewhere along the way in their API provisioning journey, we've prepared a great event for attendees. 

One of the highlights of the event for me (and a new element compared to our San Francisco edition this past May) is the ProgrammableWeb Innovation Showcase. This is where I am hand-picking as many as five innovators who will completely reshape your API thinking. Not just when it comes to having an API strategy (which many companies do not). But also, when it comes to reshaping an existing API strategy. These innovators are way out on the edge, exploring the efficacy and approach to APIs in ways that many of us have yet to contemplate. If you are interested in getting hand-picked for one of the slots in the showcase, be sure to write to me as soon as possible (my email address is below). 

Additionally, as we get closer, I will be offering up additional detail on the sessions and developer workshops we have planned. For example, Google's Hoi Lam will be leading a hands-on design sprint for designing Glassware for Google Glass that only requires pencil and paper.

But one of the sessions I'm really excited about is being led by Lokku co-founder Ed Freyfogle who will be using his journey in building the OpenCage geocoding API to help other API providers understand what it's like to aggregate multiple APIs (some open, some not) into one API, and then to try to build a successful business model around that API. 

So, what's geocoding? It's pretty easily explained says Freyfogle. "There are two types; forward and reverse. Forward is where you have an existing address and the geocoding API returns the latitude and longitude. The reverse is the opposite; you have the latitude and longitude and the API returns the closest address. Now that everyone carries a computer (their smartphone) that tells them where they are, developers naturally want to build apps that turn a latitude and longitude into something that humans can work with more easily."

To do this with OpenCage, according Freyfogle, "rather than just collecting our own data, we aggregate various open and private services and offer developers a single easy-to-use well-documented geocoding API." Freyfogle's intention for OpenCage is for it to compete with the 800-pound geocoding gorillas like Google and NavTeq. According to Freyfogle, there's a demand for alternative open geocoding solutions that don't involve some of the restrictions that developers must accept when using one of the more popular services. "For example," says Freyfogle, "with Google's solution, Google can decide what your maps look like, whether they carry ads, and how long you can store certain data." 

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is one of the services that OpenCage relies on. It's a service that has far fewer restrictions because of its open nature. One of the advantages of OSM according to Freyfogle is how developers have complete control over the User Experience. The look and feel of integrated maps can be tightly integrated into the look and feel of the host application and even privately branded. Examples of brands that rely on OSM are Pinterest, Craigslist, Foursquare, and the Financial Times. However, as good as it is, Freyfogle feels as though OSM falls short on some fronts which in turn has created an opportunity for him and his co-founders. Not only does OpenCage look to augment OSM's data with data from additional services, it also overcomes OSM's weaknesses when it comes to infrastructure and developer resources. It's not a nit on OSM according to Freyfogle. "OSM is a volunteer effort and as such, isn't as robust as a commercial offering."  

In OpenCage, Freyfogle intends to change that. "We'll merge [OSM] with other datasets while constantly enhancing the service, providing a very robust offering for developers to work with."

The question of course is how to commercialize the offering and generate a profit while maintaining the open nature of the underlying solutions. As the API economy grows, not only will other API providers (in other segments and industries) look to build their own uber-APIs that aggregate a mixture of open and private APIs, they'll have to figure out the ROI bit as well. And that's exactly what Freyfogle will be talking about at APIconUK as he shares his personal journey with those of you who could be repeating it some time in your future. 

If you're interested in attending APIcon in London, go to our Web site at http://www.apiconuk.com. We are offering some free scholarships to attend. Send me a note to see if you qualify.

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: Create Engaging Custom Maps Using Google Maps Engine API v1.0