Whether you came into this article wondering “what the heck is an API?” or you already know more, let’s start from the beginning.
An API, which stands for “Application Programming Interface”, is best explained as the means through which computer programs can easily transmit data and actions between each other.
Here are some everyday examples of APIs:
- an API is how YouTube videos or Twitter feeds get embedded on pages across the web
- an API powers social buttons for sharing and liking content
- an API makes it possible to watch Netflix on your phone, tablet, TV or computer
- an API enables Google Analytics to track your site’s visitors
Crucially, APIs allow services to propagate over different contexts, such as new devices and platforms. Yet despite there being APIs everywhere, you might have never seen one. What does an API look like anyway?
Swapi.co hosts a completely open and extensive API containing data about the Star Wars universe.
I decided I wanted the data on people called “Luke”.
This was the response.
As a reading experience it is not terribly pleasant, and, for this reason, the Wikipedia article may be preferred.
However as far as data goes, this is exactly the thing we want to have. The formalised data means that we could, for example, easily devise an app that would organise all of the Star Wars characters by height, eye colour etc. While the same could be achieved based on Wikipedia articles, it would be technically much more arduous and exponentially more time consuming to undertake. It would be a case of having the data, but unable to use it in a valuable way.
Coming back from a galaxy far away, what does any of this have to do your data and business?
Businesses have recently started talking about data and have begun to understand the huge potential locked within. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, the potential remains locked within cumbersome CRM systems and lacks the process that scatters useful data across Sharepoint folders and a myriad of other systems. APIs therefore are not just a technological consideration, an API is a statement about the organisations attitude towards data.
Many of the APIs I’ve touched upon here are open and usable by the public. This is beneficial to companies such as Google who want to see their services on every facet of the digital landscape. However an API does not need to be public, and in practice companies will be running both public-facing and private APIs for different needs. In particular, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have recently rolled back their public API-access considerably. This action does not stem from their desire to ensure their users’ privacy, but the realisation that their public APIs were giving out extremely valuable social graphs that marketers would pay hard currency for.
So could your business have an API? It probably should!
Despite quoting examples from tech luminaries, building an API is within the reach of any business with an insight as to their key data.
Here are some of the things an API could do for your business:
- help your integrations with new platforms
- uncover new insights from analytics
- it can supercharge your marketing automation
- reduce vendor lock over time
- ….and, if your creative partners are clever enough, it will help them deliver much more with much less.
So in 2017, don’t let your data languish in an Excel report or at a dark corner of a CRM.
Love your data, with an API.