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The ABC’s of API’s

Alex Christie

4 June 2009

If you work in the digital space long enough (or are brave enough to venture into the dark windowless rooms where developers are often found slaving away behind computers), you are likely to hear the acronym API.

So what is an API and what can they do for my business?

API stands for Application Programming Interface and is a way for application developers to open up access to their applications to other developers and organisations.

API’s can be be best thought of as a contract between two parties.  When a user creates an application they can publish an API which says exactly how other applications must call it, and how they can expect it to respond.

The reason that API’s are important is that more and more large organisations are opening up their proprietary software and making data available for users to use as they see fit.

Google and Yahoo have long had API’s that allow users to query information including:

  • Analytics data;
  • Adwords data;
  • Indexed pages;
  • Site backlinks.

Microsoft has also joined in and made a BING API available which allows users to query the Bing search results and use them in whatever way they like.  There are also many other API’s out there ranging from weather forecasts to financial market data.

So how can this all work together? Imagine I run an online business selling air conditioners and  want to understand what drives my sales.  I could just look at google analytics to compare my traffic volumes with sales, however this would only give me part of the picture.  Instead I could build a custom application that retrieved my traffic volumes from google analytics and then graphed it alongside the weather for the same time period?  A sudden hot spell might better explain why sales jumped for a particular time frame as opposed to a small rankings move.

So in a nutshell API’s allow you to easily access vast quanties of data which can then be mashed together to give you higher quality information to answer your business needs.  Now all you need to do is find a problem that needs solving!

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