Posts from api

Open APIs and Open Standards

As Dave Winer has been pointing out in recent weeks, there is something quite interesting happening in the blogging/microblogging world.

First WordPress allowed posting and reading wordpress blogs via the Twitter API.

Then yesterday our portfolio company Tumblr did the same.

John Borthwick has been advising companies for a while now to build APIs that mimic the Twitter API. His reasoning is that if your API look and feels similar to the Twitter API then third party developers will have an easier time adopting it and building to it. Makes sense to me.

But what WordPress and Tumblr have done is a step farther than mimicing the API. They have effectively usurped it for their own blogging platforms. In the case of Tumblr, they are even replicating key pieces of their functionality in it, as Marco describes:

The really cool thing – because our following models follow a lot of
the same principles, we’ve been able to take advantage of a ton of
native features:

  • Retweeting = Reblogging
  • Replying = Reblogging w/ commentary
  • Favoriting = Liking
  • “@david” = ””
  • Conversations = Reblogs

And as Dave Winer points out, this effectively creates a standard that third party clients can adopt. And Dave ends his post with this highly provocative thought:

If Facebook were to implement the Twitter API that would be it. We'd have another FTP or HTTP or RSS.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of this and the implications of it. And I'm not writing here in my capacity as an investor in Twitter and Tumblr or a board member of Twitter. I just think its fascinating and worthy of discussion in this community. So let's get on with it.

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APIs In The Late Afternoon

After our weekly team meeting yesterday afternoon, I hopped into a cab to the far west side of manhattan to attend the Business of APIs conference. In the cab, I opened socialscope on my blackberry to check into twitter and saw this tweet from my partner Albert:

Love APIs — so excited about @foursquare's announcement

As I sat down with Quentin Hardy to talk about APIs, I wasn't sure where the conversation would go. Fortunately Quentin is a good interviewer and we had a great chat.

We talked a bit about the foursquare api, and I mentioned that I am most excited about cool games that can get built on top of foursquare, like mob zombie.

We talked about what is a real api, and I seconded our friend Joshua Schachter's assertion that a read-only api is not an api. I believe apis should allow full read/write access and the ideal api in my mind totally replicates the web app's functionality.

That led us to Twitter naturally and I stated that the thing I want most from the Twitter api is sign up via the api. I realize that there are reasons why that hasn't happened yet, but I feel that Twitter has led the web world in providing full access to its application and sign up is a key feature that third party developers could do great things with.

Quentin seized the opportunity to pounce on the monetization question and I stated my belief that the best way to monetize apis is to "send money with the api". I talked everyone through my Business Model Jujutsu post and ended with this line from Paul Forster, CEO of Indeed:

We tried charging for our API without much success.  Then we paid developers to use it and it took off.

We also talked about "api failures". I said that there are two kinds of api failures that I've noticed. The first is when the web app itself is not very popular and therefore developers aren't compelled to build to its api. That is not an issue with the api itself. The second is when the web app itself is very popular but the api is not so much. Usually the issue in this situation is the api is too restrictive and doesn't allow developers to do enough with it. I mentioned the Etsy api, which is read only, as an example of this situation. Fortunately, Chad Dickerson of Etsy, had preceded me at the event by a few hours and talked about how Etsy is taking their api to the next level by offering both read and write.

That's about all I can remember about the talk with Quentin. It was a good one. APIs are such an important topic. I'm surprised there aren't more events about them. I'd like to thank Mashery for putting this one on. And I'll leave you with a blackberry photo I took of the view from the event yesterday evening. That alone was worth the trip to the far west side.


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Business Model Jujutsu

The big moment in the history of TACODA (a company we invested in early this decade that was sold to AOL in 2007) was when they went from charging customers to paying customers.

I was reminded of that yesterday when Paul Forster, the CEO of Indeed, said this at our portfolio summit yesterday:

We tried charging for our API without much success.  Then we paid developers to use it and it took off.

It is such an interesting move to make on the market. In the case of TACODA, they initially built a powerful behavioral targeting solution for publishers to segment their audiences and sell them to advertisers. They sold the technology to about twenty large online publishers. But the sales cycles were long and the license fees were smaller than they needed them to be.

So TACODA built an ad sales force and said to publishers, give us your inventory and we'll send you back money. That was a much easier sell all around and the business took off.

In the case of Indeed, they initially offered online publishers the ability to pay for a real time search API of online jobs. Not many took them up on that offer. But when they injected their sponsored jobs into the API and offered to share the revenue with publishers, the demand was huge.

Not every company that has an API can do this jujutsu move on the market, but many can and should. It makes life much easier.

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