2011 API Trends: Government APIs Quintuple; Facebook, Google, Twitter Most Popular

Online directory of APIs and mashups, ProgrammableWeb, just hit a big milestone this week: 5,000 APIs listed. The site has a long history of tracking the API landscape, starting with the launch of its directory back in 2005, five years after eBay created the first web API. Not surprisingly, big names like Google, Facebook and Twitter are now leading the way in terms of sheer numbers of APIs offered, usage, and popularity. Among developers tracking APIs on the site, Facebook now has the most popular API, and it’s followed by Google Maps and Twitter.

However, according to ProgrammableWeb executive editor Adam DuVander, there were some new trends spotted among the last 1,000 APIs added to the directory, too, including an increasing number of government APIs becoming available.

Of the 231 government APIs now listed in ProgrammableWeb’s directory, over half have been added in the last four months. While 2009-2010 has often been heralded as the time when government began embracing transparency, that was mainly true in terms of opening up access to gigs of data, sometimes simply in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. It wasn’t until 2011 that governments really began making that data available through programmatic means, explains DuVander.

Notably, he mentions how New York City’s annual Big Apps contest added an API in 2011. Plus, the NYC Open Data API now gives access to over 750 public datasets. And the San Francisco Ethics Commission Lobbyist API is part of a law requiring transparency of lobbyist disclosure statements, something ProgrammableWeb calls the first ethics API. Elsewhere in the world, platforms like Socrata and CKAN have also made it easier to access public data.

There were just 28 government APIs listed on the site in 2010, but in 2011, there were 130. So while the number of APIs has doubled over the past year, government APIs have nearly quintupled.

While government APIs are trending upward, also retaining their popularity are two other top categories: Internet and Social. There are 500 Internet APIs found on the site, including many cloud and platform-as-a-service APIs. There are also now almost 600 social APIs, a category which saw 35% growth over the past year.

Meanwhile, the site serves up 96 Google APIs, 8 Facebook APIs, Twitter’s 3 official APIs and the 100+ derived APIs, referring to the trend of creating new APIs from Twitter data, like the Klout API and Topsy API, for example. Most APIs are REST, but SOAP is still popular in the enterprise.

ProgrammableWeb says it expects to hit a couple more 1,000 API milestones in 2012. At some point, every company will have an API, DuVander believes.

“Think back to the web of 1995. There were plenty of companies without websites. Very quickly, all these companies realized they needed to have a website to compete,” he says. “We have seen the same thing with social media and that is the way APIs are headed.”