APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, are the “middleman” between web services like Facebook & Twitter and desktop or mobile applications.
They’re being released by application/service providers at an increasing rate. But there’s a fine line between allowing access to a brand’s data for the sake of experience enhancement and essentially delegating software development to the developer community at large. Walking this line is difficult, but finding yourself on the wrong side may find your brand alienating both consumers and developers.
To illustrate my point, this post will discuss three scenarios involving two real companies and one fictional company. (In all honesty, the fictional company in Scenario 3 is actually a real company, but out of respect, they will remain anonymous.)
Scenario 1: Facebook walks the line (and does it well)
The growing brand power and household name status behind Facebook is remarkable, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down yet. What began as a modest college-only social network, exploded when Facebook ultimately opened their doors to everyone.
Shortly after going public, Facebook opened up their developer platform and allowed developers to create custom applications that would live on third party servers yet still be accessible within Facebook’s site. The now-ubiquitous “Facebook Application” spawned an entire industry for web developers and marketers alike.
Shortly thereafter, the “year of mobile” finally arrived. The culture begun by the Blackberry (or Crackberry as their loyal users would say), finally exploded with the release of the iPhone. Basically, it didn’t take long for mobile to get “a whole lot cooler.”
Capitalizing on the growing trend, and recognizing a cultural revolution that found users interested in maintaining contact with friends and family at all times, Facebook launched a mobile site, a remote way to update a user’s status via SMS text messages, and ultimately, offered an official Facebook mobile application native to the iPhone and Blackberry.
Facebook recently opened their data up even further, empowering developers to create their own desktop clients, embeddable widgets, mobile applications and a number of other offerings where users could interact with Facebook.
The touch points where one can interact with Facebook are now almost too many to count, but it was the native mobile applications that unleashed the floodgates of developer interest. Today, Facebook counts that more than 30 million users are accessing their site though a mobile device and these mobile users are the service’s most hard-core users — 50% more active than their web-only counterparts.
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