The Rise Of The API

Mashups. That name seems to grate on me now, never liked it. Several years ago, 2005 maybe, web apps or even web functions became much more liberal with sharing information. We saw the pioneers like Flickr and Delicious open up their data to 3rd parties through APIs. The seminal event was probably Google Maps. Closed to 3rd parties in the beginning but pried open, the map data was too enticing. Before there was an API for Google Maps, I was one of the few to mash data on top of it. This gave rise to the term Mashups.

Fast forward to today, where providing an API is no longer an option, but a necessity. If you don’t provide one, your competitor definitely will.

One of the most successful and open APIs is Twitter’s. Spawning tens of thousands of 3rd party apps, cementing Twitter’s lead in the micro-blogging sector. Nobody can come close to them.

In this post, I want to go over two examples. The first example is what got me onto this train of thought, more below.

Shelfari vs. Goodreads
I’ve been using both sites for over a year, but Goodreads is now, frankly, kicking Shelfari’s ass. Though I think Shelfari is a superior website – I’ve invested so much time into Shelfari and am somewhat miffed that it is destined for oblivion.


You can probably guess by now, they have no frikkin’ API! FriendFeed, Cliqset,, etc. cannot interface with Shelfari (and Shelfari doesn’t integrate with anything else) so none of your content ends up in your Activity Stream. People don’t see what you are doing on the site, people never learn it exists, people don’t use it.

Gowalla vs. Foursquare
This one is a bit less obvious, but the lack of an API in Gowalla is killing it. Their blog states, on January 13th, the API is nearly complete. NEARLY COMPLETE! What, are they waiting for it to be perfect before rolling it out? Bad idea. Do you think Twitter waited until their API was golden before letting others use it?

On the other hand, Foursquare has had their API out since at least May 27, 2009, this is when the first message was posted to the discussion group. They even have an app gallery!

Now for some objective data, (kind of). Since I cross link a lot of my social accounts, I get a lot of spillover from Twitter. When an social app really starts taking off, I start to get an increasing number of requests. Request numbers for these sites:

  • Shelfari – ZERO. EVER.
  • Goodreads – 1 to 2 per day.
  • Gowalla – 2 to 4 per day.
  • Foursquare – 10+ per day.

If you’re aggregating data or building a social site and don’t have an API, you’re history.

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