Word to API providers: Make it simple for developers

Word to API providers: Make it simple for developers

The I Love APIs conference offered plenty of advice on how to draw developers' interest in APIs

Want developers to use your APIs? Then these APIs should be easy to deal with, akin to Chipotle’s simplified restaurant menu.

So says Kevin Kohut from Accenture, who presented on how to attract developers to APIs at Apigee’s I Love APIs conference in Silicon Valley this week. Developers can gain access to data and services via APIs exposed by third parties. But API programs have to be done correctly, Kohut and other speakers emphasized.

Kohut offered a multitude of tips on attracting developers, emphasizing what developers do and do not care about. “Developers don’t care about your business model. They don’t care how you make money,” he stressed. They also do not care whether API services were written in Java, Node.js, Python, Ruby, PHP, or C#, according to Kohut.

Kohut’s main point was to not make developers jump through a lot of hoops to access API-based services. Developers do not want to be hassled with complex registration processes or have to learn the provider’s business process in order to use APIs. “If you have a real complex business process, you need to figure out how to turn that into a modern API interface.” Dealing with marketing, pushy sales reps, and 30-page EULAs also are no-nos.

What do developers want? They want RESTful APIs that adhere to standards, usable examples of real use cases for an API, easy discovery of what the APIs do, and a simple monetization model, said Kohut. To drive home the point, Kohut showed Chipotle’s streamlined menu next to a more complex restaurant menu. With Chipotle, customers get only what they want, he said. API providers, he stressed, should “make the developer experience as easy and enjoyable as possible.” This logic should apply to both a company’s own developers and developers from outside the organization.

Kohut was joined by Kevin Toms, developer evangelist at wireless lighting provider Philips Hue. He stressed that if providers have APIs, developers will use them. “The question is, why should they? What’s in it for developers?” Philips Hue offers an interconnected colored lighting system controlled via an API. “There is actually a good amount of money that people make from selling Hu apps.” Providers need to have a business model for developers, he said.

Developer marketing and outreach are important, he said. “I also think it’s important that you support them well, continuously.” This means good documentation online, provision of tools, and responding to questions. Hackathons can be useful as well. But providers also should not put out products that compete with their developers, said Toms. “Developers are your allies. They make your product more interesting.”

At Pearson, which offers online education, the company started its first successful API program in 2010, said Allen Rodgers, program director. Its current API program, called Learning Studio, enables users to take online courses. Clients integrate various back-end systems to create a holistic view for a student, he said. He suggested providers start small. “The big thing here is it’s much easier to add functionality than remove functionality.”

Providers, he stressed, must offer a compelling value proposition and remain flexible. “What this all comes down to is you kind of get one chance,” he said. If developers don’t understand actual terms and sample code and sample applications are not provided, they are not likely to come back, Rodgers said. “You have to treat your API as a product.”

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