LinkedIn to Limit Public Developer Access to its APIs


LinkedIn today announced major changes to its developer program that will see a number of now-public APIs become accessible only to select LinkedIn partners like Samsung and Evernote.

In a blog post, Adam Trachtenberg, director of LinkedIn's Developer Network, explained, "Over the past several years, we’ve seen some exciting applications from our developer community. While many delivered value back to our members and LinkedIn, not all have." In an effort to address this, the company decided to limit the scope of its open API and maintain broader API access only for members of one of LinkedIn's partner programs.

Specifically, beginning in May, non-partner developers will only have access to LinkedIn's Profile, Share and Companies APIs. Other APIs, such as Connections, Groups and People Search, will not no longer be available openly. In addition, as detailed in a Developer Program Transition Guide, LinkedIn is making changes to some of the permissions schemes associated with the open APIs. For instance, use of the Companies API will require an application to be flagged as an administrator of the requested company page. And access to full profile permissions associated with the Profile API will require LinkedIn's approval. According to the company, such approval will only be granted to a business for use with its careers pages.

In conjunction with its upcoming API changes, LinkedIn has revised its API terms of use effective immediately. While the company says that "there were no substantial policy changes involved," it is encouraging developers to review the terms and ensure that their applications remain in compliance.

As ecosystems mature, companies rethink API strategy

LinkedIn's Trachtenberg acknowledges that "for many developers, we understand that today’s changes may be disappointing and disruptive, but we believe these changes will provide further clarity and focus on which types of integrations will be supported by LinkedIn." At the same time, he reiterated that "the developer community continues to be a priority for LinkedIn."

Of course, LinkedIn is not the first company to make major changes to its API strategy, and it certainly won't be the last. Sports media giant ESPN shuttered its public API last year "to better align engineering resources with the growing demand to develop core ESPN products on our API Platform." Netflix also ended its public API program in 2014, limiting access to "a small set of developers whose applications have proven to be the most valuable for many of our members."

It is clear that as their developer ecosystems mature, many companies are taking a closer look at how their developer programs align to their businesses rethinking just how open those programs should be. As ProgrammableWeb Editor-in-Chief David Berlind recently noted, "Across the API economy, various API stakeholders are charged with aligning their API strategies with their business strategies. Security-wise, those business decisions will often dictate certain technological choices and best practices across the entire IT estate. But picking between public vs. private is primarily not a technological choice. It's a business choice along the lines of Netflix's Daniel Jacobson's often-referenced explanation of LSUDs (Large Sets of Unknown Developers) vs. SSKDs (Small Sets of Known Developers)."

Obviously, going from a LSUD approach to a SSKD approach presents numerous challenges. There is a lot of room for frustration and anger when large sets of unknown developers see their access to an API restricted or cut off entirely. But ultimately, companies like LinkedIn rarely exist to serve large sets of unknown developers and when the value created by these developers doesn't significantly exceed the value received by them, changes like the ones LinkedIn announced today are to be expected.

Be sure to read the next API Strategy article: Microsoft Adds CORS Support to Aid JavaScript Development