API’s Dirty Little Secret
I have a hypothesis about APIs: a lot of the people who want to use them are non-developers with a business problem.
Yet, so much of documentation and resources are aimed at an incredibly technical audience, building robust applications. What if the potential majority of API integrators just have a problem to solve so they can move on with their job?
This is not about everyone learning to code, because not everyone needs to be a full-time programmer.
What do non-developers with a business problem want? They want to solve their business problem. That’s it. If the solution requires using an API, they’ll do that. If it requires some coding, they’ll do that.
Back in 2012, Twitter pulled Instagram’s access to its API, which made it impossible to find your Twitter friends on Instagram. People complained about the change, but that’s not the interesting part. It wasn’t just developers saying that the world should be open and programmable. It was everyday Instagram users, upset that a key feature had been removed. When these people complained, they didn’t even use the word API.
In the case of Instagram and Twitter, finding your friends isn’t necessarily a business problem. Archiving your tweets in a Google Spreadsheet, that might be. Or if your business counts on seeing Instagram comments right away, for example, you might want them to show up in Slack.
Outside of social media, with CRMs, CMSes, and other business acronyms, it becomes clearer: non-developers want to augment the countless applications they use every day.
The popularity of IFTTT, Zapier, and many other tools further shows there’s a need. Non-developers have discovered the power of automation. They’ve been able to invite robots into processes that before were either impossible or highly manual. To developers, and increasingly to non-developers, it’s no secret that APIs are behind these tools.
As a developer, I get excited that APIs are improving lives of end users. That’s why I’ve been focused on APIs for the last seven years. The number of public APIs have grown, and with them we’ve seen hackathons and contests to gain the attention of developers. We’ve seen an intense, and still important, focus on developer documentation in all its forms. And while we’ve seen code camps and schools emerge to teach programming, we’ve left others to fend for themselves.
Developers are a small group compared to the non-developer with a business problem. Imagine if this much larger group had access to the same tools as developers. Of course, they do, but the resources aren’t aimed at making non-developers successful.
I believe a lot of good can come from enabling non-developers with business problems. That’s why I’m working on the Business User’s Introduction to APIs, a program that teaches what you need to know from the perspective of getting your work done with code.