What are APIs and How do They Affect You
Application Programming Interface (API) is the interface used by a program (or an application) with the intention of facilitating communication with other applications. In an alternative meaning of the word, API is a programming environment that provides program functions as blocks to the programmer. However, for web purposes, APIs are responsible for the good integration of different pieces of software, making it so that you can copy from Google Chrome and paste in Microsoft Word without even thinking about it.
APIs are not visible to end users as they function “in the dark” without much need for direct input. By facilitating application communication, they enable platforms to be extended and enriched with functions from other programs and even devices. This can be said to be the cornerstone of the current web as Facebook, Twitter, even Google gather additional information from your computer to provide tailored services. Twitter is a fantastic example of good integration thanks to its well-developed API, which can interact with a number of inputs1. Another example is the embedded Google Maps on company websites, which borrow geographic and 3D information to better direct users.
As you can imagine, incorporating APIs in services makes them more functional, easier to use and more integrated into everyday lifestyle as duplicate functions among programs are removed. Google has long since discovered the advantage of specific, API-powered SERPs, in comparison to results without context. Previously, search engines were one step in the journey to information as they focused the user’s quest onto a single site or database. However, increasingly contextualized information is coming out in the SERPs. For example, when searching for weather, Google accesses a trustworthy source so that the user doesn’t need to leave its page. For specific countries it goes even further by providing hotel booking information and flight purchase options.
The other obvious applications of APIs are smartphone apps and mobile technologies, like Google Glasses. In a way, these sources of information eat away from site usage as people don’t need to go any further than their start screen to check their mail, pay their bills, or access the local weather forecast. Furthermore, apps increasingly take into account GPS positioning, visual images and physical input for a more augmented reality. With the penetration of smartphones expected to increase, a lot of businesses have a fantastic opportunity to connect with their loyal customers on the street, before their competitor does so.
Most of the aforementioned applications utilize public APIs, but some have access to private ones. It is reasonable to consider, then, whether building an API will be worthwhile for your business. For example, Amazon.com2 has its own API so that developers, bloggers and other influential people can access its product data and use it at their own websites (obviously, in order to monetize their online presence). Following this train of thought, certain businesses like restaurants and cinemas could benefit by opening up to public or private applications and keeping their customers in the know.
Additionally, APIs can reduce management and administration costs. They allow for different programs to operate in unison, requiring less human attention and input. This creates numerous automation opportunities, so that management can focus on making important decisions and are not preoccupied with insignificant matters. For example, big companies would benefit from having a coherent and integrated central system so that new recruits are seamlessly and quickly entered into the system. A public API could enable external developers to make specific applications without having to pay for expensive in-house specialists. Just look at the boom in Facebook applications after it released its API.