Complexity and Perspective

APIphany, an API man­age­ment plat­form, has a weekly twit­ter con­tent. Last weeks was to com­plete the sen­tence “An API…”. I’m proud to say, I won last week with:

“An API helps orga­ni­za­tions del­e­gate complexity.”

Notice of win­ning was fol­lowed quickly by a ques­tion from Dar­rel Miller, who asked “I would expect an API to hide complexity?”

I agree, API’s (at least good ones) hide inter­face complexity.

They also allow orga­ni­za­tions to del­e­gate complexity.

It’s about per­spec­tive. Dar­rel was think­ing about devel­oper per­spec­tive. A good API sim­pli­fies the inter­face to a sys­tem so that it can be broadly used. In fact, it’s one of the chal­lenges too. My favorite exam­ple of this was a dis­cus­sion around iCloud that I read (apolo­gies, I can’t find the link). There is a dif­fer­ence using the iCloud API’s for apps that save files vs games. Devel­op­ers have to make assump­tions about what’s allowed — for exam­ple, you may want to edit a doc­u­ment on two devices at once, but not allow a game player to reset the game from one device while play­ing on another. Same API, dif­fer­ent best prac­tices around how that API should be used.

As a total aside, I’ve found that Tem­boo is a great solu­tion for instan­ti­at­ing best prac­tices around open API’s (and for cre­at­ing a scal­able, pay-as-you-go exe­cu­tion plat­form). Just to be clear, I’d like Tem­boo even if they weren’t neigh­bors here in Tribeca, NY.

The phrase “del­e­gat­ing com­plex­ity” came from a con­ver­sa­tion I had with Lisa Grimm, then brand man­ager for Mall of Amer­ica. Mall of Amer­ica had no mobile apps. There were too many things to do, all on a very lim­ited bud­get. Which to do first? How to hit the “right mar­ket”? Which plat­forms to sup­port? The prob­lem, as any com­pany faces is, as you try to opti­mize for effort you really dilute the expe­ri­ence. Just ask Face­book, who have (finally!) re-written their iOS app as a native app.

Let me put a lit­tle plug here for my company’s solu­tion for mobile cross-compiling. A while ago we acquired Metismo and have fully inte­grated it into our web­Meth­ods devel­op­ment plat­form. web­Meth­ods Mobile Designer is a great solu­tion for writ­ing once, deploy­ing every­where natively. It works really well and I encour­age you to check it out as a way to sup­port a broad range of mobile devices with­out com­pro­mis­ing your cus­tomers’ experience.

The alter­na­tive to doing it all your­self, is to do what Lisa was think­ing, and what the MTA has done. Del­e­gate.

This is not about devel­op­ers writ­ing apps, it’s about orga­ni­za­tions exe­cut­ing strat­egy through tech­nol­ogy. MTA has inno­v­a­tive apps because they’ve writ­ten a good API, con­cise terms of use, and have pro­moted it with adver­tis­ing and events. They’ve del­e­gated the com­plex­ity of which apps to write, how to launch them, and what plat­forms to support.

I might even sug­gest they’ve become a con­vener, but that would be way off topic.

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