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If You Build It, They Will Come

by Eric Knipp  |  November 30, 2009  |  2 Comments

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,, 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.

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Tags: api  etsy  woa  

Eric Knipp
Managing Vice President
3 years at Gartner
15 years IT industry

Eric Knipp is a Managing Vice President in Gartner Research, where he focuses on Web and cloud application development methodologies and trends. Mr. Knipp is based in Dallas, Texas. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on If You Build It, They Will Come

  1. Mashery says:

    Thanks for the article Eric. We wholeheartedly agree that APIs are a BIG opportunity but did want to point out that sometimes it’s not as simple as a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. They may definitely come if you don’t build it, but an important element in API program strategy is understanding the developer community you’re releasing into.

    Catching up on this post late but it gave us the time to write this article about – How to Enrich Your Developer Community –

    Build an API, yes.
    But don’t forget to be strategic and creative around planning for your APIs success.

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by erichknipp: If you build an API, they will come – if you don’t, they might build it in spite of you

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