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While APIs Are Catching Fire, Don’t Forget About Design

by Eric Knipp  |  April 30, 2013  |  Comments Off on While APIs Are Catching Fire, Don’t Forget About Design

According to Forbes, the “API market is on fire“. My conversations with Gartner clients on this topic would seem to confirm the article’s top line. In the first quarter, only application PaaS crowded out APIs as the most popular topic for my client dialogues (and that’s counting the fact that for the month of March, I picked up all of a departing analyst’s PaaS client calls). I have covered APIs at Gartner since mid-2009 and have seen a steady growth in client interest. If you’re an API aficionado, that’s great news.

Now, for the not-so-great news. A great many API initiatives from non-technology companies suffer from poor, or entirely absent, design. Beside the usual REST-vs.-SOAP impedance mismatch that experienced object-oriented developers have to work out, there is a darker, more sinister force causing problems with enterprise-created APIs: laziness.

We want to get our APIs out the door as fast as we can so that we can start leveraging them, monetizing them, seeding the market with them, powering our mobile apps with them, and so on. In our haste to get the API to market, we can easily be tempted to take a short cut – simply expose our existing domain models (which include our databases, web services, SOA repositories, and so on) to the world with a thin veneer of REST generated by some development tool. Presto! API. Not so fast.

The practice of “domain model dumping” is sure to be a scourge of poorly-designed APIs in the coming years, especially if the recent acquisitions have lit a fire under the hindparts of previously oblivious CIOs and CTOs. As the API landscape becomes increasingly crowded, developers will discover that they have several (or even many) functionally identical APIs to choose from – so don’t give them a reason to avoid yours. Gartner’s approach to API design focuses on several key factors, in an approach we call Consumer-Driven API Design.

A Consumer-Driven approach decouples API design from the underlying data model it exposes to its intended audience. It forces the design team through a repeatable and transparent methodology that produces demonstrably better outcomes than an ad-hoc and hackneyed approach. And the best part: you don’t even need a fancy-pants API management product to do it. If you’re interested in getting better at API design, as a Gartner for Technical Professionals client you can have a gander at my document on the topic, and follow it up with a conversation with me.

Finally, I am still looking to hire a couple of great analysts in the UK. Click here if you’re interested!

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Category: web-apis  

Tags: api  

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

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