Speed And Automating The Connections Between Humans And Machines In The API Economy

This coming Friday night, I’ll be at the API Days conference in San Francisco to talk for a few minutes about my perspectives of the API economy. I am not a developer — just an observer — so my views are not deeply technical. That just means I have to ask more questions and talk to more people about APIs and what they represent.

But then I have to simmer it down, collect my thoughts, and then ask some more questions. Here are two themes I am picking up on from all these conversations.

Speed: APIs are making things faster. They connect apps. Software is eating the world. APIs connect the software so it can eat the world faster. Distribution is a driver of speed. The more distributed the API network, the better it can scale and the faster it can work to connect apps and create a mesh that is increasingly more effective than content-delivery networks.

An API distributed from a central point can slow things down considerably if the load increases on the server. API management companies are pushing APIs to the edge in order to manage the billions of calls that they get daily from service providers that connect the apps into websites, mobile devices, cars — you name it.

Data-intensive APIs are doing something else. They are slowing the network. To alleviate the issue, service providers are looking at the I/O, trying to find ways to make the data connect faster to the APIs that, in turn, connect the apps so someone can post a picture or get a text message about an update from a blog. It’s this need for speed that cloud services are built upon. Scale out the infrastructure and app developers will use it to get better performance and overall quality improvements. What’s still emerging are the advancements of the networks themselves. Again, that’s where software enters the picture and the further need for APIs. The infrastructure needs to be programmed. How that’s done is the big question.

Automation: Once one part of a system gets automated, the rest of it soon follows. APIs are the glue that makes the automation possible. People want to connect their apps. It’s why services like Zapier and IFTTT have gained such popularity.

People want to connect apps to get work done and reshape their reality. Chris Dancy uses IFTTT and Zapier to connect apps that feed into Google Calendar, Evernote and Excel. He uses these services to quantify his life. Through automation, Dancy can program himself and the things around him. He can connect his dog into the network and track its movement in the house.

In this new reality, everything becomes a node. You, me, the lamp post across the street all can have sensors and APIs to connect with other people and things. If this is the case, then the API economy is more about how this new network makes for different forms of commerce that maximize these connected, automated systems. The questions: What are these new forms of commerce? What are the infrastructure and systems needed for this new reality?

These are two themes in particular I look forward to discussing.

There’s a third but it’s an open-ended one that may be better off ruminating about in the hallways or over a beer. And that’s how this new idea about data and APIs is better understood by more than 1 percent of the people out there. It’s not just the geeks who should be able to live in the future but everyone else, too.