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Should my API be Public?
As more enterprises realize the value of APIs and rush to establish their own API programs, many quickly need to answer a key strategic question—should their APIs be public or private? Some high-profile companies have recently suspended their public API programs (examples include Netflix, ESPN, and Aetna Carepass) which only adds to the confusion and uncertainty on the type of API program an organization should support.
Mashery has helped many organizations formulate their API strategy and the following are the two main questions that will help you think through this strategic question.
How would a public API better support your overall business strategy?
Some organizations derive direct value from their API programs. Though the exact business model might vary, these organizations charge developers directly for the data and services delivered by their APIs. Dun and Bradstreet licenses access to their APIs that deliver the corporate data that D&B is known for. For payment processors like Stripe or Braintree, there is a direct charge to the developer for every payment they transact via APIs through their platform.
In these cases, organizations are motivated to have as many people using their APIs as possible and find value in providing public access to their APIs. They have determined that there is sufficient value in the long tail of developers consuming their services that it is worthwhile and beneficial to support a public API program.
In other cases, the 3rd party applications built on an organization's APIs do not sufficiently drive the needle for the metrics that matter to them. Did 3rd party movie discovery apps that leveraged the Netflix API sufficiently drive subscriptions for the company? Or could the resources devoted to that public API program be best utilized elsewhere? Which leads to the next question...
What incremental investment would it take to support a public API program?
With good API management, it is technically trivial to create new API products and configure any required governance policies on your API. But supporting a public API program requires operational and financial considerations beyond the technical. A few considerations for a public API program include:
- Infrastructure: What would it take to support the predicted increase in traffic from a public API?
- Support: What would it take to support the predicted increase in developer support from a public API? How
- Marketing: What is the marketing strategy to reach public developers? Do we have resources to devote to evangelism, attend events, and potentially host conferences?
A public API program makes sense for some organizations, but not all. For every tier of access provided, there will be a business and governance model mapped to each. Ensuring that you have the right models in place, and are producing sufficient value to your organization as well as the developers consuming your API is key to success. If you do decide to expose a public API, then having the right plan in place to reach external developers is also important. Relying on 'build it and they will come' is rarely a successful strategy.
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