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Founder of We Wire People, Martijn has 15 years experience in the field of Integration, as an Architect working in and for Enterprises. He mainly advises in case of mergers, application rationalization and Cloud / Social Media back-office integration Martijn blogs at martijnlinssen.com

6 responses to “Why API’s suck, and what they lack”

  1. Steven Willmott

    Interesting viewpoints Martijn and I’d be the first to say there are some less than perfect APIs out there – they can be hard to use, subject to change and many of the things you mention. However, on the whole I think you may point is way off base – primarily you call self evident and boring that you can access data in this way, when in fact it absolutely isn’t – APIs are in their infancy in many ways and what came before was – screen scrapping, RSS if you were lucky and certainly not the level of programmatic control you have now. I should declare that I work at 3scale (http://www.3scale.net) and so not surprisingly have some bias – but also maybe some perspective!

    There are certainly things to be fixed but what you are saying Is akin to saying *this web thing SUCKS* in 1995/96 – yeah it was clunky, slow, a lot of the content was random, you couldn’t move for animated gifs etc. – but it *worked*. Plus the fact that it worked meant people built it out and it became what we have to day (whether all the evolutions are good is a debate for another day). APIs are at a similar stage – there are a few thousand public APIs a lot more private but they are a tiny fraction of the web – most of the web doesn’t have a programmatic interface yet of any sort.

    I think your comments on APIs being closed, have no uptime guarantees etc. are with respect rather out of date – there are a lot of companies who provide APIs which are mission critical to their business and they treat them as such (including many of our customers): they obsess about uptime, there SLA, there is versioning, you can use them in commercial and non-commercial ways and they are often more reliable than a company’s website. You see this in many sectors – Media, Financial Data, eCommerce etc. not to mention in B2B APIs for procurement etc.

    Openness is one of those tricky terms that bites you back – what does it mean? Id’ say it should be thought of in the same way as the web – the web *itself* is open – anybody can put up a site with whatever access terms they like – it’s the same with an API. Just as with the web some APIs are public, free and accessible to all – and others are pay-to-play. I don’t think this is any different.

    Lastly you counted useful and useless APIs – ultimately it isn’t the API that counts it’s what’s behind it – the data, the service, etc. – it’s the same as for the web – there may be millions of sites out there you consider completely useless. Presumably if they truly are useless eventually whoever runs them will shut them down, but many will be useful to some people and some will be useful to many. Companies in general don’t put effort into opening an API unless there’s some real utility there – for some companies it’s becoming central to their business.

    There’s no doubt that current technology is still limited, sometimes documentation is lacking and APIs can be hard to use – but it’s early days. I’d rather be able to do what I can with the twitter API today than wait for someone to bring out something perfect – that’s not the way anybody learns and evolves. REST prevalence is certainly helping things, as is just the increasing numbers of APIs being built – it all helps move the ball forward.

  2. Mike Schinkel

    Thought provoking article Martijn. While I do think I agree with Steven Willmott in that the fact APIs exist is a huge plus, I’d be really interested in what you think makes good documentation? We have need to document APIs for our clients and are trying to figure out the best way forward.

  3. Martijn Linssen

    Hi Steven, Mike

    Steven, you are way off here, and evidently don’t know where I come from: 15 years of global enterprise B2B experience are tattooed on my forehead.
    Your comparison to the web in 1995 is hence ridiculous – describing services and offering them has been done for over many, many decades now.

    “It’s early days” – that’s what e.g. klout keeps saying about themself, using it as an excuse to deliver an enormously crappy service. Join the hordes Steven! If this is how you think about quality of service, your attempt to get free publicity for 3scale just bit you in the ass

    Mike, splendid point. I touch upon that at the last chapter of my Integration book: http://www.martijnlinssen.com/2011/03/perfect-integration-13-dos.html. I’m currently working on something more elaborate with rewards to API’s, and expect to release that within the next days or weeks

  4. Steven Willmott

    I think we may have to agree to disagree Martijn. There’s no attempt to get free publicity – I took the time to respond on your blog to points you raised – despite the fact that they were couched in very conflict heavy language. Strangely enough, I actually care a whole lot about APIs because they have the power to make the web 10,000x more powerful than it is today.

    We take quality of service extremely seriously – as do many companies which provide APIs and no doubt that will increase. Just pick APIs like Xignite, ebay, paypal, Amazon, Expedia etc. – all of these are absolutely API driven businesses – 100′s of millions of transactions flow across some of them daily.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it – either APIs get out there in the while and grow with usage, feedback and experience or they don’t get out there at all. If people are unhappy about what’s out there then there is no obligation to use them – just wait till they improve (or something improves upon them). In the meantime other people will be building a ton of value on them.

    Is there too much hype around some APIs – sure, but there is too much hype around plenty of things in almost any category you can think of. That doesn’t make the whole category invalid.

  5. John Weiner

    Martijn, it is clear to me you are asserting that many of the API’s are crap today. I tend to agree with you, there is no standardization, no SLA, no nothing. It is like the wild-wild west.

    What is not clear to me is your “follow-on” statement to the “API’s are crap”. Are you saying, “look, API’s are crap today, therefore it will not amount to anything in the future”? Or “API’s are crap today, so the industry needs to figure out how to standardize and make it useful”?

  6. Martijn Linssen

    Hi John,

    Yes. And no.
    API’s are giving access to systems from the outside, which is fine and can even be fun, and useful. But if they are to be used, their business use must be well described.

    There will never be standards on the API level as in one talking to the other, although it could be managed if they were to properly mature and function to a decent level of publish and subscribe.
    What can be easily achieved, is a standard in API description: no nonsense stuff like wsdl or xsd, which are just tech formats, but clear human business rules about how to disclose the business function to the user. Currently API’s are tech ground at the very best, and that simply needs to change

    It’s like a car mechanic describing the use of a car – that wouldn’t sell for shit now would it?

    I’ll be posting on this in the very near future, and we have something cooking in the UK, probably broader. Keep you posted!