May 23, 2012

Commercial Terms of Service = A Top Priority for Developers


As a matter of practice at Mashery, we regularly poll developers about their pain points in order to learn which resources help best address the points they identify. We advise clients to make it a habit to actively listen to developers -- both inside and outside their company -- if they want to design an API that developers will use. Listening can take the form of monitoring Twitter, Quora, and Stack Overflow, setting the right Google alerts, but if you prioritize correctly, you should also schedule opportunities to listen to developers in person. Mashery did just that this year at SXSW. We surveyed 188 web and mobile application developers (out of 1002 total SXSW attendees surveyed) using our iPad survey and friendly Mashery team at our API demo lounge. The developer survey results reveal some interesting API findings we think are worth sharing. Developers were asked to rank several hot issues in their world. What did we find? The developer mindset is evolving to be more focused on opportunities to monetize, work efficiently and stay abreast of new developments in application development. A compiled list of the top insights from their 2012 kudos and criticisms is below. 1. Commercial Terms of Service overtake Code Samples as #1 pain point: Listen up, Bing, Yahoo! and NPR -- if you want to attract a thriving, vibrant developer ecosystem to extend your data in new and interesting ways, providing some form of easy to understand, non-legalese, commercial terms of use for your API is a great spark. A non-commercial TOS can be a signal of data "stinginess" instead of partnership and market opportunity. In a change from how developers answered this question in 2010, developers reordered their priorities. This year’s survey revealed 33 percent of developers prioritized APIs having commercial terms of service over APIs having working code samples, documentation or API Explorer tools. In contrast, our 2010 developer survey results, showed an equal proportion of developers rating code samples as their top priority. As the rationale for a business or organization to offer an API continues to evolve, ask yourself the question any developer would: why would I waste my valuable time integrating with an API if I can never monetize my app using that data? In addition, The Guardian and USA TODAY -- who perhaps not coincidentally are talking to app developers at a lot of tech events and hackathons this year -- are examples of 2 traditional newspaper APIs that have bucked the trend in their industry and offer commercial TOS for at least some of their APIs. They also both have the developer adoption and quality device coverage to show for it. 2. Code samples remain a significant priority for developers. Developers don’t want to re-invent the wheel. Nearly as important as the opportunity to make money, giving developers a working code sample to re-use and iterate on remains a top priority. This priority fell from 33 percent to 22.5 percent since 2010. Potential causes for this include the advancement of interactive documentation such as Mashery’s I/O Docs, and the increasing use of APIs not just to build apps, but also to leverage standard pieces of code where re-writing the same function over and over. There is no secret sauce in commodity code snippets that do not actually advance one’s standing amongst the other apps on the market. When possible, re-usable code FTW! 3. Is API documentation actually getting better? It’s arguable that the state of API documentation is a better one than the last time we asked this question in 2010. Thanks to companies like Twilio, Stripe, Wordnik, Klout, and Posterous, we think the state of API documentation is getting better. Developers seem to agree. We hope that our open sourced I/O Docs available on Github has helped API providers offer better, more maintainable and accurate documentation. 22% of developers feel that well-maintained API documentation is their top ask of API providers. 4. API Explorer is trending higher as APIs multiply. Allowing developers to make live test calls is a trend we are seeing on more and more well-adopted API portals. It’s still an emerging feature across the full landscape of APIs, and less ubiquitous than code samples, docs and TOS. Still, 16 percent of developers we surveyed feel that getting hands on with an API quickly is a significant challenge for them. Mashery clients have data to back up that having an API Explorer in your Getting Started area accelerates developer onboarding for their API. As the sheer number of public APIs continues to grow faster and faster, the possibilities for building integrations and applications with API data grows as well. Prioritizing the developer tools and resources that help simplify understanding the market opportunity, ease of use, and unique data your API has to offer makes your API more attractive to developers who have to filter through an increasing amount of APIs just to get at the “good stuff.” Above all, make sure to actively listen to developers about the perceived value of your API. This one single act will have a positive reverberations on your brand, your recruiting efforts, your product development, and your ability to react to upcoming disruptive innovation in your industry.