A field guide to web APIs

1Executive Summary

A new breed of web API has emerged, delivering a vision of a lightweight, low-cost approach to connect devices and allowing applications to exchange data efficiently.

This research report is a field guide for web API providers, developers, and even nondevelopers. Among its key points:

  • Previously APIs required custom technology, protocols, and often costly implementations, but web APIs build on existing technology, specifically the HTTP protocol that the world wide web employs to deliver content worldwide — with no need to invest in new technology.
  • Simplicity rules. The web API providers that simplify interfaces and encourage adoption (even to a nondeveloper audience) are emerging as the leaders.
  • The purpose of web APIs is to deliver valuable, scalable, and distributed resources across the internet. This requires four ingredients: commerce, social, the cloud, and mobile.
  • Application-developer onboarding requires clear steps. App developers should be able to register, authenticate, and access documentation, code samples, support, and any other resources essential to API integration. And they need to do it easily.
  • Opportunities for web APIs are emerging in the internet of things (IoT) — internet connectivity applied to everyday objects — in automobiles, homes, and building connections as well as in health and fitness and in manufacturing with 3D printing.

Source: flickr user Mike Baird

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