June 1, 2020 Bob Alexandropoulos 3 minute read

Are APIs user friendly?

 

API may be a fairly common term in our digital times, yet most people have a rather vague, or incorrect idea about what this actually means and what it does to utilize it for their businesses.  

An API, or Application Programming Interface, allows for the interaction between two applications. For example: field service vendors offer APIs for their customers to connect their service network to any customer relationship or service management software. More advanced solutions offer drag and drop features that allow users to connect their API without the need to code.

APIs allow applications (software programs) to talk to one another. While very similar in notion to User Interfaces (UI), they instead are not designed for humans, but for communication between applications. They work as messengers that deliver your request to the provider you are requesting it from, and then send the response back to you. APIs are often referred to as being machine-readable interfaces versus human-readable UI. 

So, the question of APIs being user friendly does not really apply to the ordinary user. Instead, it makes sense to explore how “friendly” they are for advanced types of users like developers, companies that wish to connect to other interfaces without a specialist’s help or entrepreneurs.

hands putting puzzle pieces together

Why APIs are important for businesses 

APIs can be considered as the building blocks that programmers use to “glue” together their software and communicate with other applications internally or externally. They provide a connecting bridge for businesses’ software to query and interact with third-party programs, like their customers’ or vendors’ applications. This creates many opportunities for interoperability and innovative solutions within the business ecosystem. Successful solutions, data and resources, can be reused for new ideas and implementations. API integrations create dynamic possibilities and drive new business ideas out of existing ones that benefit from the interdependency and the market expansion.    

Furthermore, APIs also offer strategic business benefits: they enhance scientific communication and interconnection of different datasets. A creative pool of different combinations becomes available to research and development for new, value-added services and results.

The friendly API for developers

What aspects of an API could be considered as user friendly for developers? The question is not that easy. There are many criteria to take into account. In the broader sense, user friendly means flexibility and ease of use. While some APIs are simple, there are others that provide complex functionality. A change to an API may break the connection of many other connected services. Thus, poorly designed APIs may have an overall negative impact to a series of interconnected businesses and wider implications than initially considered.  

Some API best practices should be taken into consideration:

 

  • Providing adequate documentation - Offering quality support with a clear and thorough up-to-date API reference documentation, quick start guides and code examples, will enable its full potential and speed up the creation process.

  •  API changes and versions - Taking into consideration existing users before making changes that will break functionality for them. Using versioning could help maintaining compatibility for older version users. 
     
  • Offering SDK and ease of adaption - A Software Development Kit (SDK), is an essential set of tools that can enable the easy creation and customization of software applications targeting a specific platform.
  • Consistency in design oeprability - Consistency in its structure and operability will allow for a quick learning curve by the programmer and thus an easy implementation of the API to new roles. Simplicity enhances flexibility of the API.
  • Security and permissions - Being careful in designing API permissions and communication entry points will help protect the users. Allow users to be informed of permissions and what information is accessed. Require API requests be sent over encrypted connections. Use safer practices for user authentication without allowing the programmers to access directly the user’s username and password. 
  • Providing a thoroughly functional API - Offering a quality API that takes full advantage of the application’s functionality will be more useful to developers 

The Future

We are on the fringes of a new era. AI, 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and increased security measures will shape the new ways of entrepreneurship. Traditional business strategies are becoming outdated. The role of APIs will increase as the IoT will enable all sorts of devices to communicate. Businesses will have to develop their product strategy by taking into consideration how to best utilize the new communication opportunities that APIs enable.

Thus, it is necessary for APIs to be more friendly to entrepreneurs. New features, like a drag and drop API function to easily connect with any other systems without the need to code, may be a major step into the future for large and small businesses, allowing them to quickly set up and adapt connection to other interfaces as needed.

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