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API why?

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I had a conversation with a web entrepreneur the other day and came upon the topic of web service APIs.  Offhandedly, I asked him “When are you guys going to write an API?” assuming that the answer would be “Soon” or “We’re working on it”  After all, it seems like every web service from Friendfeed to Facebook have one…and even much smaller services with very little traction.

His answer, which surprised me, was that they were not going to write one (even though their main competitor had already done so).

His theory was that there was pretty much no point in writing an API unless you were a service the scale of Facebook, MySpace, etc.  After this discussion, I thought more about it and I’m starting to think that there might be something to his argument.

After all, why expend effort on developing a great API when you’re still trying to build a solid userbase?

Shouldn’t user experience and user acquisition be the core focus of your business at the early stage of any web company? Is an API actually contributing to that goal?

When is the userbase of a sufficient size where an API will be a big value-add for both users and the web sites that use the API?

Or is there another set of parameters that one should look at besides userbase size when making this kind of decision?

Written by John Gannon

September 5, 2008 at 5:41 pm

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