{"API Aggregation"}

Who Is Going To Do The DevOps Aggregation API Platform?

There are two distinct types of APIs I keep an eye on. One is what I call my life cycle APIs, which are the APIs of the service providers who are selling services and tools to API providers and developers. The second category is what I call my stack network, and these are the individual API providers, who offer a wide range of API resources--you can find both of these types on the home page of API Evangelist

The 50+ life cycle APIs I track on can be used by companies to manage almost every stop along a modern API life cycle. In theory, all of these service providers have APIs. In reality, they do, but they do not practice what they preach and often do not make their APIs easily discoverable. I have said it a thousand times before--if you sell online services to API providers, you should have an API. Period.

At some point in the future, I will have profiled all of the companies included in my API life cycle research, like I did for API monitoring, and be able to provide a comprehensive API stack across all the providers for all stops along the life cycle. Ideally, each provider would have their own OpenAPI spec, but I'm still getting many of them to make their APIs public, convincing them of the importance of also having an API definition for their API will come next. Then I'll continue pushing on them to allow for the import / export of API definitions, so their customers can more easily get up and running with their services--if you need an example of this in the wild, take a look at Sandbox, or over at API Metrics.

I'd love to see someone take this idea and run with it beyond what I'm able to do as a one-man act. There are numerous API aggregation solutions already out there for financial, healthcare, images, documents, and more. What about an aggregated API across providers in the name of DevOps or microservices orchestration? An aggregated solution would allow you to automate defining of your APIs in multiple formats with API Transformer, deploy them using Docker or Heroku APIs, manage with 3Scale APIs, deploy sandboxes with Sandbox, monitor with Runscope, and almost every other stop along the life cycle. 

I'm sure I've written this one up before, but I couldn't find it, so I wanted to get a fresh post up on the subject. With all the agile, orchestration, DevOps, microservices, continuous integration goingz on, having a coherent, cross-vendor API stack, and a suite of the usual analytics, billing, and other vital middleware services just makes sense. Let me know when you get up and running, and I'll send over my bank account information for the royalty payments. ;-)

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The Opportunity For API-Driven Algorithmic Transparency At The Mobile Data Plan Level

API Evangelist is focused on helping push for sensible API-driven transparency wherever I can get it. When done in sensible ways an API can crack open the often black box that is the algorithm, giving us access and more control over our online experience.

One of the most significant algorithmic bottlenecks that govern our daily lives is our mobile data plans. All of our mobile phones are governed at the data plan level--this is where the telecom companies make their money, throttling the bits and bytes we depend on each day. 

The mobile data plan is a great place to discuss the algorithmic and data transparency that APIs can assist with, and one example of this in action is with the Google Mobile Data Plan API. Google wants more access at this level to improve the quality of experience for end-users when using mobile applications like Youtube, which can be severely impacted by data plan limits, while also significantly impacting your data plan consumption if not optimized.

There is so much opportunity for discussion between mobile network operator, API providers, developers, consumers at the data plan level. I know mobile network operators would rather keep this a black box, so they can maximize their revenue, but when you crack the network layer open with a publicly available API, there will be a number of new revenue opportunities.

Data plans affect all of us, every single day. We need more transparency into the algorithms that meter, limit, and charge us at the mobile data plan layer. We need the platforms we depend on each day to have more tools to optimize how applications consume (or do not consume) this extremely (seemingly) finite, and valuable resource (thanks, telcos!). 

I've added an algorithms area to my research to keep an eye on this topic, curate stories I find, and share my own thoughts when it comes to algorithmic transparency using APIs.

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API Aggregation, Reciprocity, and Orchestration

I struggle a lot with how I separate out my research areas--there are a lot of reasons why I will break off, or group information in a certain way. Really it all comes down to some layer of separation in my head, or possibly what I perceive will be in my readers head. For example, I broke off hypermedia into its own research project, but now I'm considering just weaving it into my API design research

This is one of the reasons I conduct my research the way I do, is that it lets me spin out research, if I feel necessary, but I can easily combine projects, when I want as well. As I move API aggregation and reciprocity out of my "trends" category, and into my primary bucket of research, I'm consideration an addition of a 3rd area dedicated to just orchestration. Right now I'm considering aggregation staying focused on providing APIs that bring together multiple APIs into a single interface, and reciprocity is about moving things between two API driven services--I'm thinking orchestration will be more about the bigger picture that will involve automation, scheduling, events, jobs, logging, and much more. 

I enjoy my research being like my APIs, and keeping them the smallest possible units as possible. When they start getting too big, I can carve off a piece into its own area. I can also easily daisy chain them together, like API design, definitions, and hypermedia are. Some companies I track on will only enable API reciprocity at the consumer level, like IFTTT, where others like Cloud Elements will live in aggregation, reciprocity, and orchestration. I also think orchestration will always deal with business or industrial grade API usage, where my individual users can look to some of the lighter weight, more focused solutions, available in reciprocity.

Who knows? I might change my tune in the future, but for now I have enough curated stories, and companies who are focused on API orchestration to warrant the spinning off of its own research. Once added, I will link offf the home page of API Evangelist with the other 35+ research projects into how APIs are being put to work. I'm hoping that like my research into API monitoring, testing, and performance has produced a critical Venn diagram for me, that API aggregation, reciprocity, and orchestration, will better help me understand see the overlap in these areas for both API provider, and consumer.

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Solution Discovery Instead of API Discovery Via API Aggregation and Reciprocity Providers

During my API discovery session talk at @APIStrat Austin this last November, I talked about what I see as an added dimension to the concept of API discovery, one that will become increasingly important when it comes to actually moving things forward --- discovering solutions that are API driven vs. API discovery, where a developer is looking for an API. 

It might not seem that significant to developers, but SaaS services like Zapier, DataFire, and API hubs like Cloud Elements, bring this critical new dimension to how people actually will find your APIs. As nice as ProgrammableWeb has been for the last 10 years, we have to get more sophisticated about how we get our APIs in front of would-be consumers. We just can't depend on everyone who will put our API to work, immediately thinking that they need an API--most likely they are just going to need a solution to their problem, and secondarily need to understand there is an API driving things behind the scenes.

Of of many examples of this in the wild, could be in the area of tech support for your operations. Maybe you use Jira currently, because this is what your development team uses, but with a latest release you need something a little more public facing. When you are exploring what is possible with API reciprocity services like Zapier, and API hubs like Cloud Elements, you get introduced to other API driven solutions like Zendesk, or Desk.com from SalesForce.

This is just one example of how APIs can make an impact on the average business user, and will be the way API discovery happens in the future. In this scenario, I didn't set out looking for an API, but because I use API enabled service providers, I am introduced to other alternative solutions that might also help me tackle the problem I need. I may never have even known SalesForce had a help desk solution, if I wasn't already exploring the solutions Cloud Elements brings to the table.

As an API provider, you need to make sure your APIs are available via the growing number of API aggregation and reciprocity providers, and make sure the solutions they bring to the table are easily discoverable. You need to think beyond the classic developer focused version of API discovery, and make sure and think about API driven solution discovery meant for the average business or individual user.

Disclosure: Cloud Elements is an API Evangelist partner.

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Keeping A Window Open Into How Power Flows Within Algorithms Using APIs

I just read The Pill versus the Bomb: What Digital Technologists Need to Know About Power, by Tom Steinberg (@steiny), and I'm reminded of the important role APIs will (hopefully) continue to play in helping provide a transparent window into some of the power structures being coded into the algorithms we are increasingly relying on in this digital world we are crafting.

In this century, we are seeing a huge shift in how power flows, and despite the rhetoric of some of the Silicon Valley believers, this power isn't always being democratized along the way. Much of the older power structures is just being re-inscribed into the algorithms that drive network switches, decide pricing when purchasing online, via our online banking, and virtually ever other aspect of our personal and business worlds.

APIs give us a window into how these algorithms work, providing access to 3rd party developers, government regulators, journalists, and many other essential actors across our society and economy. Don't get me wrong, APIs are no magic pill, or nuclear bomb, when it comes to making algorithmic power flows more transparent and equitable, but when they are done right, they can have a significant effect.

If APIs are a complete (or near complete) representation of the algorithms that are driving platforms, they can be used to better understand how decisions behind the algorithmic curtain are made, and exactly how power is flowing (or not) on web, mobile, and increasingly connected device platforms--API does not equal perfect transparency, but will help prevent all algorithms from being black boxes.

We may not fully understand Uber's business motivations, but through their API we can test our assumptions. We may not always trust Facebook's advertising algorithm, but using the API we can develop models for better understanding why they serve the ads they do. Drone operators may not always have the best intentions, but through mandatory device APIs, we can log flight times and locations. These are just a handful of examples that APIs can be used to map out digital power.

All of this is one of the main reasons that I do API Evangelist. I feel like we have a narrow window of opportunity to help ensure APIs act as this essential transparent layer for ALL API operations across industries. As the established power structures (eye of Sauron) turn their attention to the web, and increasingly APIs, their powers of transparency are becoming more diminished. It is up to us API Evangelists, to help make sure APIs stay publicly available to 3rd party developers, government, journalists, end users, and other key players--providing much needed transparency into how algorithms work, and how power is flowing on the web and mobile Internet.

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Financial Data Aggregator Yodlee Looking For A Director of Developer Evangelism

I spoke with the leading financial data API aggregation providers Yodlee last week, regarding their hunt for a director of developer evangelism. Yodlee provides an aggregation API that is designed for developers who need secure access to their users’ bank, credit card, investment, and loan accounts—if you think about it, this is a pretty critical API, in what we are all calling the “API Economy”.

Yodlee isn’t just looking for a junior evangelist, they are looking for a director—someone to lead the charge, when it comes to evangelizing Yodlee to potential API consumers, while also supporting the community and applications that are already integrated with the financial data aggregation platform. While there are well published job descriptions for the API evangelist role, there are no universities training up, cranking out the next generation of evangelism leaders—they are a unique breed, leaving a major hurdle for API providers like Yodlee to jump.

Evangelists are equal parts engineer, business development, product development, sales, and marketing—a combination that is not easy to find. Yodlee and I discussed the difficulties of finding the right candidates for the role, and whether or not you emphasize the technical or the marketing skills? There are extremely few candidates who know they are evangelist material, you often have to sculpt one out of many different personality traits, and both technical and business skils.

Evangelism talent, at both junior, and leadership levels is going to continue to be a major stumbling block for the expanding API economy. Even with some movement in the world of API discovery in 2014, we will never be able to fully automate API discovery, let alone evangelism, management and support. At some point we are going to need more agencies, and institutions focusing on training up the next generation of evangelists, similar to social media marketing did in the last 5 years—of course, hopefully we can scale a little more sensibly, than the social media marketing world did.

If you are interested in the developer evangelist position at Yodlee, head over to the recruiters site, and let them know I sent you.

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A 3rd Party API Showcase for Your API

I stumbled across the Twitter Counter API in my monitoring for the API Stack this morning. The Twitter Counter API allows you to retrieve key metrics on any Twitter account like username, url and avatar.  All data you can get via the Twitter API, but with Twitter Counter API you get additional information like account growth statistics and ranking, that Twitter doesn't provide at all.

I find it fascinating that someone can build an API to augment an existing API, which is why I keep talking about it, I guess :) We are seeing a more standardized version of this with API aggregation providers like Singly and Adigami, where they not only aggregate APIs from a variety of sources, they also build entirely new APIs based the added value that is created after they are brought together.

Thinking about if further, it would be cool if you could submit your API to be listed in your parent API providers API area. Think of APIhub and Mashape, but every API area would have its own 3rd API marketplace. API providers often allow 3rd party developers to submit code libraries and samples to be listed as resources, as well as applications for listing in an application showcase. So it makes sense to potetially allow for your developers to submit APIs for validation and publishing into a designated area.

It seems to me that we shouldn’t exist as islands, we should be able to invite in other API resources built on top of our APIs, or that compliment our APIs. We should also have terms of use and pricing models that invite others to take our API resources and deploy in other ecosystem, building the next wave of BaaS providers that will be delivering specialized stacks of resources for developers to efficiently build mobile and web apps.

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Virtualized API Stacks

Up until now we tend to think of APIs individually--we approach integration in terms of the Twilio API, Twitter API or the Facebook API. But as the number of public APIs has grown beyond 8K, and an unknown amount of internal and partner APIs become available, we are seeing new patterns of aggregation and interoperability emerge from companies like Singly, but also seeing automation be added into the mix by companies like Temboo, and entire backend stacks from providers like Parse.

These new aggregated or backend stacks of API driven resources can be as general as object and key-value stores, user management and other developer commodities we see backend as a service providers (BaaS) bring to the table, or they can be very personal like the photos Singly is aggregating across Flickr, Facebook and Instagram and with friends and followers across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

As I see these new aggregate and BaaS providers emerge, at an ever increasing pace, I can’t help but think--this still isn’t fast enough (its my nature, you should try being me). If I want common mobile developer resources I can adopt one of these new BaaS platforms like Kinvey or Parse, or if I need personal and social resources, which have become part of the fabric of web and mobile apps, I can go to Singly. But what if I want a more specialized network, say just for education? I might need user management, object storage, key-value storage, access to commons social tools like friends and photos across multiple social networks, but I also need access to open courseware, teacher and student directories all via a very secure, auditable, efficient stack tailored just for K-12? I will have to wait, for the next wave of startups to emerge.

While in NYC on Friday I had a great discussion with Temboo about virtualization. Not just the virtualization we’ve come to depend on with cloud computing--which is the virtualization of compute, storage, and database resources, but the virtualization of network resources and software defined networking. Companies like Nicira, Pluribus Networks, Anuta Networks, Arista, and Vyatta are emerging with new products that are allowing the virtualization of networking resource into new and meaningful network stacks for any possible implementation that you can imagine.

After these conversation with the Temboo team, over the weekend I continued to think about the potential of virtualized API stacks. Why can’t I assemble my own API stack? Why do I have to go to each API individually, or wait for new Singlys' to emerge in other verticals? Why can’t I assemble Parse, Singly, Twilio, Schoology, SendGrid into a virtualized API stack that provides not just ease of use, but the security I need to deploy a backend tailored just for K-12 education?

In this vision of the future, API providers could focus on what they do best, and not worry about every use case out there. Providers like Singly, Temboo, Parse can build abstracted layers on top of this. With this abstraction I wouldn’t be limited to just the friends and followers features on Twitter or Facebook, I could take advantage of the next generation of friend discovery tools like what Singly is delivering--in addition to the value of individual API providers.

With a virtualized approach, I could build the stack that is most meaningful for my internal, partner or public developers and if one piece of my stack is proving unreliable, I can replace it with another. APIs resources would be further commoditized, required to provide JSON definitions of their interfaces (or die a quick death), which virtual API stack platforms could use to discover and offer API resources. API ranking algorithms would emerge allowing anyone to make sure they were discovering, selecting and using the best of breed API resources in the areas that matter for any vertical.

With a virtualized API stack I could launch any specialized set of resources that I desired from the best of breed providers out there. I could blend private and public resources together and in return offer them for use in private or public environments, further blurring the lines of what is an API and how they are consumed.

As we see APIs continue to become a driving force in government, healthcare and education and bridge the online and physical worlds via our automobiles, homes, buildings and further grow within healthcare via the quantified self, potentially disrupt manufacturing with 3D printing and drive everything around us with the internet of things--the manual assembling of individual or even aggregated API stacks won’t be enough. We will need the ability to virtualize APIs stacks for any purpose within hours, not months or years.

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