Thursday, April 25, 2013

The API: Field of Dreams, or Empty Playing Field?

Field of Dreams
Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice in his corn field tell him, "If you build it, they will come."Ray interprets this as a message to build a baseball field in his cornfield. Ray builds it...

Ray's message is apropos to the recent news of API management companies getting acquired. Recently Vordel, Mashery and Layer7 have all been purchased by larger companies hoping to build and manage the API infrastructure for the next set of enterprise apps.

Like the movie spawning multiple cornfield stadiums, I'm sure more than a few start ups are now listing API management as part of their feature set.

I believe APIs are the future of application development for new enterprise and mobile applications. Michael Facemire from Forrester had a great blog post recently recapping the recent API acquisitions. He does a fantastic job of outlining why it is important to own the playing field and touches on why BaaS and libraries (the bats and gloves) make the development game easier to play.

However, I think his last point is the most important, and most easily glossed over:

"Your development teams should become conversant in event-driven architectures and protocols, as well as both front- and back-end JavaScript. We’re seeing large-scale success driven by those that make proper use of technologies such as NGINX and node.js. Understand the business challenges that these solve and be prepared to deploy when needed. Lack of preparation here may lead to your website or mobile app being unavailable just when your customers need it most."

One needs to find both (1) architects that can design scalable solutions utilizing these APIs and (2) developers to implement them. The phrase "If you build it, they will come", is dated and misleading. In the past you might have been able to drive adoption by simply having a killer API or website. That time is long gone. Look at the most recent hot trend of having Growth Hackers, which has spawned it's own conference now. These hackers are now responsible for growth of a product which requires personnel who are flexible to quickly adapt to new integrations, platforms and other APIs. Developers, as explained in Stephen O'Grady's latest book, are The New Kingmakers.

Finding and incentivizing the best developers to utilize your API will be what ultimately makes your API strategy successful.

Portland Sea Dogs Field of Dreams / Fan Appreciation Day
MuleSoft snatching up ProgrammableWeb is the most recent of the API-driven acquisitions. This is the first acquisition focused on tapping into the developer community. It's a great move by MuleSoft since it allows them access to rich content and information on the most talked about and used APIs. Furthermore it is a great addition to their APIHub property.

The API itself is just step one of a thousand-step journey. It's the teams that can attract the "Moonlight Grahams" and "Shoeless Joes" of the developer world to come build the next generation of apps on their platform that will be a step ahead. It's the difference between a dark, lonely baseball field, and Fenway Park. Or Ray's magical field of dreams, attracting fans and saving his farm.

Cars coming to see Ray Kinsella's magical field

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