If You Build It, They Will Come. If You Don’t, They Might Build It Anyway.
Etsy, a Web proprietor of handmade goods, didn’t have a public API. That didn’t stop the “Etsy Underground” from hand-rolling one.
Etsy did have an API for internal use only. While it wasn’t promoted, it also wasn’t well-hidden from the public. Some enterprising developers figured that out, and reverse-engineered the API for their own nefarious purposes. This resulted in third party applications, code libraries, and widgets all leveraging Etsy’s site and content.
By the time Etsy got wind of what was happening in a new developer ecosystem, it was too late to steer the direction of the community directly. They could either shut off the community’s ability to innovate, or add fuel to the fire. The company chose the latter, and launched an open API which replicated all of the features the Underground had come to know and love, and took it further.
The result? According to Etsy, the API now gets 9 million invocations a month, and has spawned 17 applications, including 5 for the iPhone. One site in particular, craftcult.com, is a leading driver of traffic to Etsy’s site.
Handmade goods are interesting, but what about your business? Chances are, your data is already being scraped by somebody; maybe you can make it easier for them, and in so doing foster a community that spreads your brand.
The urge to control access is great, but what if you can become a bigger broker in the conversation by sharing instead? Clearly this won’t work for all businesses – sometimes the content is just too valuable to share, and loses its value to the enterprise once it spreads.