Tesco Promises 2 Years of Service for Their Grocery API

How do you attract developers to the world's first grocery API? How about by promising it won't go away any time soon? That's what Tesco's Nick Lansley has done in his recap of their first developer conference (emphasis his):

"I am, by this message, stating publicly that we guarantee the Beta Tesco API's existence and performance levels for at least the next two years. That is of course our 'worst case scenario' - best case is that we get the API into permanent production during 2010 so that the beta API is retired for the best of reasons: it's then a reliable production application!"

It takes a lot of time to learn how an API works and to incorporate it into other projects. When a new API appears, especially one with the "beta" label, developers want to know it will stick around. Even the big companies discontinue APIs, so a public promise like the one Lansley has given goes a long way.

Nick Lansley (Tesco) at PDC2008

There were several other positive signs that came out of Tesco's "developer jam." For one, it included actual customers. Before developers arrived about 70 people convened to answer a half dozen "challenges," such as visualizing social grocery shopping, or helping customers speed up their trips. The outcome was more than 800 ideas for applications or features, from the future users of those tools.

That huge list of ideas also gives developers a good place to start on a new Platform. When they arrived, Tesco let them in on the API's next version, so they could begin to envision how to make some of those ideas a reality.

In another sign of being customer-minded, Tesco is supporting OAuth. Since much of the API relates to accessing and storing information in customer accounts, it is important to protect login data. OAuth allows users to authorize specific applications, without giving away any passwords.

One upcoming addition where OAuth will be useful is to let customers keep reminders for future purchases. Rather than only using text to represent the reminders, Tesco is opening it up to all media. So, a customer could record audio (say, on a mobile device) that could later be played back. Or, instead they might take a picture of a brand of olive oil they saw at a friend's house. These could be shown to them at a later date or automatically matched with an item in Tesco's catalog.

Lansley also addresses competition from other grocery chains, essentially welcoming them to participate:

"Finally, I have assumed from 'day-one' of our API project that our competitors will look into the API concept. After all, it's a natural extension of web services and I'm looking forward to seeing what API they offer developers. Perhaps they are watching our project to see what happens..."

Tesco may not just be creating the template for a grocery API. They're a good example for anyone looking to cater to developers to create the applications the customers want.

Photo credit: MSDPE

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