Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The truth about free APIs

I think Nat Torkington nailed it in his post, "Six Basic Truths of Free APIs".

As Nat says, APIs are not open source software. The data is not free (as in freedom, not as in beer). You depend on ongoing access to an API at your own risk.

See also a Nov 2005 post where I, after talking with Rael Dornfest, said:
I keep hearing people talk about [APIs] as if companies are creating web services because they just dream of setting all their data free.

Sorry, folks, that isn't the reason.

Companies offer web services to get free ideas, exploit free R&D, and discover promising talent.

That's why the APIs are crippled with restrictions like no more than N hits a day, no commercial use, and no uptime or quality guarantees.

[Companies] offer the APIs so people can build clever toys, the best of which the company will grab -- thank you very much -- and develop further on their own.

4 comments:

Ian Davis said...

I don't agree that the data can't be free. See the work we're doing here: http://www.talis.com/tdn/tcl

Free APIs with the ability to fork the data - what more do you need?

jeff said...

hey greg,

this may be true for most apis, but the facebook api is different. we provide hooks into primary site features utilized by our own applications; any application we can build, you can build. also, we allow you to keep all revenue generated from your application's canvas page, which exists within facebook. lastly, we give you free distribution via mini-feed and news feed stories, as well as the application directory.

as a big fan of webservices, i hope that more companies will provide similarly robust functionality via their apis.

Anonymous said...

Greg, you just don't understand. Web services are the "next next next big thing" (tm 2.0). It's all about surfacing data, unlocking user potential and synergizing collaborative interactions.

Or whatever the "business model 3.0 generators" are spitting out these days.

As someone who was right in the middle of the dot com bubble you should see that companies are nothing if not herd followers. Remember all amazon's failed acquisitions and initiatives?

I suspect the vast majority of these "use our service infrastructure please" offerings will simply end up as Internet detritus in another couple of years once the web 2.0 bubble pops.

Govind Kabra said...

I think you are missing the point that this is not a ZERO-sum game.

While companies are definitely getting free ideas and labor, the developers are also getting the resources, that will help them realize their imagination.