How web-APIs have transformed the digital experience
Did you know that when Facebook automatically reposts the picture you uploaded on Instagram, it’s actually an API doing that? Evernote synchronising your notes between the smartphone and laptop? Same thing. If you have added YouTube videos to your site or blog, you have used YouTube’s API for that.
What does a company do to show its location online, on the map? You guessed it. Uses the free Google Maps API.
All of the above-mentioned are public web-APIs that enable data download from various web environments. Web-API is located online and is accessible over the network. Parts of the programme are located in an external server and the client’s job is simply to order services without installing additional components.
Web-based APIs are invisible and work “behind the scenes”, yet they have significantly changed the web. The largest API platform www.programmableweb.com currently lists 21,363 public use APIs. The number increases daily.
The secret behind the success of public web-APIs
Thanks to public APIs, smaller websites and companies can offer a better user experience and functionalities that would otherwise be far beyond their capabilities. The creators of public APIs, in turn, are waiting for developers to integrate them with their websites and apps.
Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay, YouTube and others kindly allow everyone to use their services and APIs, since it increases their reach and brand reputation. This way, advertisements distributed in these environments get everywhere as well.
Google Maps has so far remained practically ad-free for 14 years. This is surprising, taking into account the immense popularity of the application—Google Maps has about a billion users worldwide. Not to mention the obvious opportunities to cash in on this sort of app. Nowadays this is beginning to change and the app will be having more ads; however, it is also a good opportunity for companies to make themselves more visible.
It is hard to find an area that wouldn’t use public API. Let us take a look.
In 2000, the eBay API was launched, enabling the creation of apps or webpages that directly communicate with the eBay database. In 2002, Amazon created its own API that in addition to content integration into its system also allowed to perform searches.
Client's purchasing behaviour has significantly changed. The customer path is no longer linear. API can guide customers to make purchases using a growing number of contact points and devices: shop, online shop, homepage, smartphone, directly from social media or a virtual assistant via voice command.
E-commerce also increasingly uses APIs to personalise offers, automatize marketing, display recommendations shared on social media, for better monitoring of the delivery process, comparison of prices and products etc.
Did you notice the social media icons on the top of this blog post? If you click on Facebook, FB Messenger, Twitter or LinkedIn icons, API helps you share this article with your network without having to leave the environment of the media outlet or blog. This is one of the simplest examples of social media API. As a rule, one social media API can be used to integrate both another app’s user interface as well as a part of central functions.
An important milestone in the history of API is the curious case of Instagram. Even though the app quickly gained virtual success, it needed an application program interface to achieve a true breakthrough. The image-sharing app was launched for iPhone in 2010. The platform had a million users in only three months. A number of those felt a need for a central page; programmers wished for an API. However, Instagram refused to create an API and continued to invest in the app. By the end of the year, one developer had single-handedly created an API and made it public. At this point the matter gained attention, the self-made API was removed from use and an official and public Instagram API was quickly developed, which was instantly implemented by thousands of websites and apps connected to photography.
Let us return to the present.
Twitter updated its API collection just last year. Twitter Direct Message API lets users send private messages, create greetings, add images and external links to their messages etc. Twitter Search Tweets API gives the users access to their last 30 days’ tweets to use in other outlets. Twitter Ads API is a good way to amplify your tweets and accounts, launch campaigns and monitor their success outside Twitter as well.
Facebook will remember 2018 as the year of data scandals, but this was also the year when version 3.2 of the Facebook Graph API was launched. This API grants access to the users’ profiles, their photos, comments etc., and it is also connected to the Instagram Graph API. Facebook Ads API and Facebook Marketing API that are targeted at Facebook marketers are very popular as well.
LinkedIn API provides data on the users, their current and previous employers, their network and communication in the environment. The platform recently asked the API users to switch to the new v2 version that enables a more secure OAuth 2.0 authentication.
Tumblr is a microblog platform used to share photographs, videos and short blog posts. Tumblr API gives access to almost all information. Tumblr recently disclosed a new API based on the JSON data format, which is much more mobile-friendly than the previous version.
Pinterest API allows one to display a topic or a user’s most popular or latest pins in other apps, as well as related pins and searches. Online stores and businesses use the Pinterest API more and more to increase their sales.
Authentication and authorisation
The best-known social media authentication APIs belong to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Not too long ago the list also included Google+. These enable one to log into a number of environments and information systems without having to enter one’s information, create an account and remember one more password. Thanks to these APIs it is possible to use a number of portals with the same user identity.
* Technical note: The newer authorisation APIs mainly use the Oauth standard that has an advantage of letting the user confirm whether they agree to having their data forwarded to third parties via API. For example, whether a platform other than Twitter can display the user’s tweets or not.
Google’s list of APIs is rather long; we have already mentioned Google Maps. Another common API provides access to the Google index. This is the reason why websites can offer their users Google search engine services in their environment, without having to direct them to the Google page first. Google Custom Search JSON API lets one make 100 searches per day for free. After that, the user must pay 5 USD per each 1000 searches.
However, Google is not the only search engine or provider of search APIs. There are hundreds out there. The search can be limited to webpages, images, videos, job offers, products, or narrowed down to a subject, such as science, medicine, history, art, programming etc. In addition to Google, the most popular search APIs include such as Bing Web Search API, Wolfram|Alpha (short written answers and summaries to popular questions, voice replies), The New York Times Article Search API, Indeed API (job vacancies), YouTube Data (video search).
VisualSearch API lets one search online for photographs and illustrations similar the given image.
Social Searcher is an API that can assemble any mentions of a certain topic using keywords and hashtags on many social media platforms.
Marketing and web analytics
Google Analytics APIs save a lot of online marketers’ time. With their help, the marketer can automatically create even most complicated reports. Core Reporting API enables to make a selection of metrics and categories and create, save and share specialised reports. APIs are the ones making the access to data and their interconnections possible—something that may not be available in standard reports.
Google Search Console API lets one see, which keyword searches lead most people to one’s homepage. Multi- Channel Funnels Reporting API shows which channels the highest quality users are from. Embed API lets the user easily integrate their modified and branded Google Analytics desktop into a third environment.
Public API of the music sphere allows for a wide selection of services: they can let you listen to music outside the platform, download it, search for concert and tour programmes, information on artists, singles and albums etc.
For example, Soundcloud is a music platform where anyone can upload and spread their music. Thanks to SoundCloud API, most of the platform’s functionalities are freely usable, which makes both sharing and saving the music easy on iOS, Android as well as web apps. The Soundcloud API is the most commonly used one; other popular APIs include those of Last.fm, Disgocs, Songkick, Spotify and Bandcamp.