Why APIs?

    October 17, 2006

Given that I helped start the Yahoo! Developer Network and once again spend my days (and some nights) working on it, you should not be shocked to know that I think APIs are pretty important.

This all goes back to something I tried to articulate a couple years ago (around the time we were working on making the Search APIs available, IIRC): Ubiquity in the Internet Age. In that post I made two claims about the web that I’d like to make once again:

1. The web enables infinite distribution of content without any special effort or infrastructure.

2. The web extends the reach of our apps and services as far as we’re willing to let them go.

I went on to say:

The closer to everywhere you can reach, the better off you’ll be.

Where is everywhere?

The notion of everywhere has changed too. It’s not just about every desktop anymore. It’s about every Internet-enabled device: cell phone, desktop, laptop, tablet, palmtop, PDA, Tivo, set-top box, game console, and so on.

Everywhere also includes being on web sites you’ve never seen and in media that you may not yet understand.

That eventually led into a discussion on APIs and Syndication (RSS/Atom) that began with:

Giving users the ability to access your data and services on their own terms makes ubiquity possible. There are so many devices and platforms that it’s really challenging to do a great job of supporting them all. There are so many web sites on which you have no presence today. By opening up your content and APIs, anyone with the right skills and tools can extend your reach.

But until that point, this was largely based on evidence I’d seen elsewhere: Flickr, Amazon.com, and so on. So we’d been doing some of it on the “if you build it, they will come” faith along with a dose of common sense and reason.

But that was all two years ago, so I’d largely forgotten that I wrote most of that (just like most of you, I suspect).

It all came back in a flash last week when someone pointed me at Kevin’s Yahoo Answers on Mobile. It’s a textbook case (if there is such a thing) of someone being able to put one of our services on their device:

…For me that geek speak which is foreign to me is soccer. I played football my whole life and the rules and lingo in soccer leave me baffled. When folks are talking about soccer, I feel like a shmoe and sort of drift off. I wish I knew more about the game.

There is clearly a problem here looking for a solution. I have my cell phone with me and would love to be able look up some of the soccer terms on the fly, get answers, and get involved in that conversation.

To that end, on the way to Emma’s first game we stopped at Barnes and Noble. I picked up a cup of coffee and an issue of Business 2.0. One of the articles was about Yahoo Answers. Yahoo Answers had 12 million uniques in June (YouTube had 13 million). This is clearly a hot and valuable web property and for a reason. It is a great resource for learning things in a hurry.

I could instantly become a soccer expert with Yahoo Answers on my cell phone.

And he did just that.

Back that “Why APIs?” question… So that Kevin can become a soccer expert at his kindergarten daughter’s games.

That’s why.

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Jeremy Zawodny is the author of the popular Jeremy Zawodny’s blog. Jeremy is part of the Yahoo search team and frequently posts in the Yahoo! Search blog as well.

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