Technical Communication with a Purpose

Unleash the API Economy

Liberating the API

Way back in 2012, Doc Searls wrote a prescient book called The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge. In this book, Searls foretells a plausible API-enabled world where the power of individuals rises and begins to balance the power of much larger organizations like banks, corporations, and governments.

An interesting and hopeful read, Searls starts Chapter 22 by quoting Craig Burton who in 2011 wrote, “Baking an organization’s core competence into API is an economic imperative.” (sic)

Looking back, those words seem prophetic if not directive.

Today, API creation is rampaging full steam as companies aspire to get third-party developers to leverage and entrench the software they’re creating. API adoption now defines important battle lines between competitive software companies looking to stake out and protect digital turf in the modern technology landscape.

For the uninitiated, the term “API” is tech-speak for “application programming interface.” At the risk of oversimplification, APIs let programmers write software programs that exchange information and functionality with other programs they didn’t write.

Using APIs, developers construct powerful applications quickly by reusing the code of others instead of writing all the code themselves. In his book, one of Searls’ examples can search for a product on Amazon, and then compare price and in-store availability at the nearest Best Buy. Searls highlights how neither the permission of Best Buy nor Amazon was needed to build his example app, just know-how and access to their publicly available APIs.

But merely having an API is not enough. Before a developer can use an API, they need to understand it. (They also need to be aware it exists, but that’s another article.)

As a result, API documentation and training has grown in importance, and now reflects a big part of our work here at Expert Support. Expert Support writers understand the technical end of the software spectrum, and can anticipate what uninitiated developers will need to know to use a new API. They’re experts at working with creators of APIs to extract, organize, and package this crucial information in way that provides clarity and accelerates adoption.

This is challenging work. Beyond the inherent and obvious complexity, developers who invent APIs often underestimate the level of context necessary to understand and use their own APIs. Their experience in creating the API is different from that of new developers who are trying to learn how to use it. Expert Support writers climb this steep learning curve by looking at the code and figuring out how to use it, and then document the things that should have been obvious, but weren’t.

That makes it easier for the next developer (and the next, and the next, etc.) to do the same.

If your organization is creating APIs and adoption is slower than you’d like, take a hard look at the API documentation, developer guides, and sample code being used to onboard new developers. If you discover it’s not as complete or as good as it could be, that may be a key factor impeding your adoption rates.

Of course, if you need help assessing and improving those technical communications, please let me know. It’s highly likely Expert Support can help, and I’d love to explore how.

Also, sign up for our email list so we can let you know about important posts and updates. 2018 will bring some great ideas you won’t want to miss to this space. Stay tuned!

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