Have you ever thought about what it takes to create a city highway system? There’s plenty to consider, such as determining the best location of routes leading to the city, the safety standards, residential impact, and much more. When road standards are met, we have a successful connection path leading us from Point A to Point B. Application protocol interfaces (APIs) work the same way.
This blog post will dive into APIs and how businesses can benefit from them through a series of accessible examples.
What are APIs?
APIs allow software to communicate with one another. Traditionally, APIs referred to the tools and methods a programmer could use to interact with software. These days, APIs can be commonly used to describe web APIs—or APIs that communicate over the internet. It takes careful consideration to create effective APIs.
Continuing with the analogy above, APIs act like roads and highway systems for software to communicate with each other. Each route can look different; for example, a road can run through a tunnel. As you can imagine, not all vehicles can fit through a tunnel—there is a height limit for taller delivery trucks. The vehicles represent our data and how they’re structured. Each API endpoint will have its own validation set to ensure that the underlying code can properly store/read/change/delete the data—a much more elegant way than ramming your truck’s roof against a tunnel.
How do APIs work?
Let’s break down how APIs work with a simple example. Imagine you’re buying a product from an online vendor on Etsy. You interact with the payment’s API when you check out the products you want to buy. Without knowing it, you (the customer) trigger many processes, like updating the vendor’s inventory count, creating and emailing invoices, and the actual payment itself. Let’s dive into more detail on the payment system in a step-by-step approach:
Step 1: After finding the products you like, enter the checkout page, where you can add your payment details and shipping address. The webpage will organize and send this information, or request, to Etsy’s servers to process.
Step 2: Etsy’s servers have a lot of work in the background. It will need to reserve the items you ordered from the inventory, create a shipping label, and send out any payment invoices. The customer doesn’t see any of this happening, but each part is essential in providing the customer with the best shopping experience.
Step 3: Finally, once the items are shipped, you’ll get another email before eagerly waiting for your new purchases!
Why businesses should consider creating APIs in their product offerings
As a business executive or decision-maker, your responsibilities include developing plans and strategies that can improve operations, revenue, user experience, and your overall competitive edge. Your business may already have running APIs, such as your website collecting customer payments. But you also need to consider if those APIs are bringing in positive results or not. The more reliable and seamless your product is, the better experience it will be for everybody involved. There are occurrences of bad APIs, and this can play out as:
- Insecure APIs: If the APIs developed do not meet security standards, you’re risking the potential of a data breach and a leak in personal data. In 2018, Venmo suffered a massive data leak that was preventable on its end. Venmo’s public API allowed anybody to download all of the transactions that occurred in 2017!
- Inconsistent APIs: A significant success factor is determined by the consistency of your API. When your API undergoes any changes in the background, it shouldn’t severely impact your customers or developers. Relearning processes or updating codebases can incur delays and costs. If you see a lack in use, you need to consider why that is and rectify the issue.
- Hard to use: APIs are meant to enhance the user experience. In a perfect world, APIs are created hand-in-hand with the proper documentation outlining how to use them. Users who are frustrated trying to use your API may look for an alternative solution. If your API is hard to use, this could be considered a bad API.
Creating APIs can benefit a business in numerous ways, from both a B2C and B2B perspective. It can:
- Allow for complete control: APIs give you the authority to allow users to perform a subset of specific actions possible in an application/service. In the Legible application our team worked on, users can select and purchase books from a large online selection. We wanted to make sure that each user’s data would sync to their account and only have access to the books they’ve purchased. Additionally, we only wanted publishers to modify and add the books that they’ve published.
- Easier monetization of the service: Usually based on a subscription, typically seen in B2B environments. We’ll dive into this further.
- An innovative approach: The development process works much quicker. You can quickly test basic API solutions to determine if enhancements are needed to gauge market interests/needs.
- Automation of processes: Let the API do the heavy lifting if it can—freeing up human resources. The Legible application leveraged automatic importing of metadata to save the clients precious time—before this, publishers had to add their books manually.
How businesses can monetize APIs
With the invention of the Internet, there followed a revolution of APIs. Before the Internet, APIs referred mainly to the tools and methods a programmer could use to interact with another program. With the Internet, we can now interact with programs worldwide and start sending/processing/saving information.
With the Internet, businesses can enter markets they would have never considered before if they can identify a niche to fulfill—these days, there are plenty of social media platforms and startups. Still, each one provides its distinct service. For instance, Facebook for connecting/messaging, YouTube for videos, and Instagram/TikTok for images and short videos.
The examples above provide for the classic consumer—a business offers a service, and the consumer purchases it (B2C). But what if I told you there were other customers you could appeal to? Developers like myself also use APIs to integrate existing services—I can build an application today by leveraging the Google Maps API for a small fee to Google (B2B). With this approach, your business has created a new income stream by monetizing the existing product.
Real-world example: Whatsapp Business API monetization
Whatsapp serves as a great example. Initially a B2C product, Whatsapp has also become a B2B product with its Whatsapp Business API. The platform lets businesses connect with their customers in minutes through chats, updates, and support. Whatsapp serves more than 2 billion users and is a relatively stable and an easy to use product. Their services rarely go down and are relied upon worldwide for conducting business or keeping families in touch. Building reliable APIs is the backbone of creating a lasting and impactful product.
The future of APIs and innovation’s role
As we’ve seen, APIs have come a long way from their initial use. As their usage grows, we’ll continue to see innovative enhancements in their capability. A consideration we’re beginning to see a rise in is improving APIs for human-centric usability.
Human-centric design in applications differs from what we classically imagine as user-centric design. User-centric design revolves around the development of APIs and the end-user. Human-centric design, on the other hand, is inclusive of the user base, client, and developers. This holistic approach to design focuses on the human aspects of using the product and getting an understanding from all perspectives. Of course, this won’t work the first time you try. It is an iterative process that requires honest feedback from all parties involved to make a plan to tackle these issues.
Benefits from each perspective:
- A developer’s perspective: Using easy-to-read and understandable APIs makes development a joy—knowing exactly how a function will work and having detailed error tracing speeds up development.
- A user’s perspective: Consuming these APIs that give an expected and desired outcome builds their confidence in the used product.
- A business perspective: The product is succeeding. It offers a safe and friendly experience for all.
APIs can enhance your product and help scale your business, but as we’ve discussed, it is essential to identify their level of quality. Our process focuses on technical analysis and defining a concept that returns the highest value for your business needs. We guide you through transforming your idea into a digital experience that your users love. For more information, contact us at email@example.com.