Tag Archives: developers

Hey Twitter: API Management = Developer Management

Quick question for you: What matters most, the client or the server?

Answer: Neither—they are really only useful as a whole. A client without a server is usually little more than an non-functional wire frame, and a server without a client is simply unrealized potential. Bring them together though, and you have something of lasting value. So neither matters more, and in fact each matters a lot less than half.

In the API world, this is an easy point to miss. The server-side always wields disproportionate power by virtue of controlling the API to its services, and this can easily foster an arrogance about the server’s place in the world. This effect is nicely illustrated by Twitter’s recent missteps around developer management.

The problems for Twitter all began with a blog entry. Blogs are the mouthpiece of the platform. Tucked away within an interesting entry about Twitter Cards and the potential to run applications within tweets (something which is genuinely exciting), can be found a restatement of an early warning to developers:

“developers should not ‘build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.’”

Ominous stuff indeed. This was quickly picked up on by Nick Bilton writing in the New York Times Bits blog, who pointed out that the real problem is that Twitter just isn’t very good at writing client-side apps that leverage it’s own API. Stifling competition by leveraging your the API power card can only alienate developers—and by extension the public who are left with a single vendor solution. Suddenly, it feels like the 1980s all over again.

This ignited a firestorm of concern that was well summarized by Adam Green in Programmable Web. Green acknowledges that API change is inevitable, but points out that this is something that can be managed effectively—which is not what Twitter is doing right now.

The irony of the whole thing is that in the past, by exercising its power position Twitter has actually made great contributions to the API community. In mid 2010, Twitter cut off basic authentication to APIs in favor of OAuth, a drop-dead event that became known as the OAuthcalypse. Hyperbole aside, in terms of actual impact on the populace this cut over made even Y2K look like the end of days. Given a tractable challenge, developers cope, which is really Green’s point.

What is important to realize is that API management isn’t technical but social. Win the community over and they will move mountains. Piss them off, and they will leave in droves for the next paying gig.

The thing I always remind people is that as a trend, APIs are not about technology; they are a strategy. Truth is, the technology is pretty easy—and that’s the real secret to API’s success. You see, the communications are never the thing; the app is the thing (and that is what WS-* missed). Simplicity and low barrier to entry counts for everything because it means you can get on with building real apps.

Now I can give you the very best infrastructure and tools to facilitate API community. But how you manage this community—well, that is where the real work begins, and in the end, it is all a lot less deterministic than we technologists like to admit. People are hard to manage, but communities are even harder.

If there is a lesson here, it is that APIs are really about potential, and that potential can be only realized when you have two sides—client and server—fully engaged. Mess this one up and you’re left with just a bunch of unused interfaces.

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Developers, Developers, Developers – Why API Management Should be Important To You Featuring RedMonk

It’s about developers again.

Everything in technology goes through cycles. If you stick around long enough, you begin to see patterns emerge with an almost predictable regularity. I actually find this comforting; it suggests we’re on a path of refinement of fundamental truths that date back in a continuous line though Alan Kay to Turing and beyond.

The wrong way to react to technology cycles is with the defensive-and-crusty “this is nothing new kid—we did it back in ’99 when you were stuck in the womb.” Thanks for nothing, Grandpa. A better approach is to recognize the importance of new energy and momentum to make great things happen.

The cycle that really excites me now is the new rise of the developer. Trying my best not to be crusty, there is a palatable excitement and energy out there that really does feel like it did in 1999. After years of outsourcing, after years of commoditization, developers matter again. A lot. It’s like the world has rediscovered the critical importance of this fundamentally creative endeavor.

This is a golden age of technology and possibility, one that is being driven by new blood and newer technology. The catalyst is the achingly perfect collision of cloud, mobility and social discovery with APIs, node.js, Git, NoSQL, HTML5, massive scalability… (I really could go on and on here).

Most of all, I’m excited by movements like Codecademy. This simple idea perfectly reflects the tenor of the time in which we live. People are no longer afraid of making things easy. The priesthood is gone; coding is now confident and mature.

I’ll be talking more about these topics and the important role APIs play in an upcoming webinar I will be delivering with James Governor, co-founder of Redmonk. This is the analyst firm that truly is at the heart of the new developer movement. I hope you can join us Thursday, April 19 at 9am Pacific. This one is going to be good.