In only a little more than a dozen years, APIs have become the software wonder plug connecting the world’s smart devices across the Internet.
Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Instagram each have them and someday so might you because application programming interface, or API code, is the key to our technologically advanced future, according to the editor in chief of technology news site ReadWrite.
Even today, APIs have become so fundamental to the way we communicate, we wouldn’t get anything done without them, according to Owen Thomas, because nearly every program that we use talks to servers on the Internet through an API.
“If every API when dark tomorrow, the Internet would grind to a halt,” he said in a ReadWriteExplain video interview presented by Intel.
While that might be a slight exaggeration, Thomas said that because of APIs we can all get more innovation faster.
“When I take a photo of the Bay Lights (digitally controlled light show on the San Francisco Bay Bridge), I have to mark it with a location,” he said, describing how he snaps and shares a photo using the Instagram app on his smartphone.
“To do that, Instagram has to talk to Foursquare. I want to share it with my friends, so Instagram has to talk with Facebook and Twitter. It happens through an API. It’s a standard way for one software program to talk with another program.”
APIs are the equivalent of a software outlet open to Internet applications and services, allowing content and data to be shared between them. For example, find a video you like on YouTube, with a click of a button you can have it posted to your Twitter stream, Facebook or Google+ profile because once these are authenticated through an API, a person has interconnected these different apps and can share things across them.
History of APIs
While there are different types of APIs for operating systems, applications or for websites, the best way to understand them is to look at their brief but explosive history.
In his post, “The History of APIs,” self-proclaimed API evangelist Kin Lane points to Salesforce and eBay as the first to release Web APIs in 2000. Others like Amazon followed in 2002 and Flickr in 2004. Facebook released its development platform API in 2006 and Twitter released their’s a month later, followed by Google Maps.
At this point web APIs were showing the power of the Internet when it came to sharing, making things embeddable and social,” wrote Kin. “Web APIs still were perceived as ‘hobby’ by mainstream business.”
Then came APIs from Foursqure in 2009 and Instragram in 2010. Some consider Foursquare’s API as one of the most popular, powering tens of thousands of apps.
“Web APIs got their start in early e-commerce on the Internet, but without social, a scalable cloud backend and a ubiquitous mobile devices–APIs weren’t ready for prime time,” explained Kin. “In 2012, we reached that point.”
API Connects Smart Things
Looking back at that photo he took of Bay Lights, Thomas pondered the possibilities of a programmable world, akin to the Internet of Things trend that is leading us to billions of connected smart devices.
“If a bridge can have an API, might we all one day?” he asked. “As the real world gets wired up and connected to the universe of code, APIs become ever more important. These layers of connectivity between apps and services can help you share a photo with your friends—or summon a taxi to your exact location.”
“APIs are going to be just like oxygen. You just can’t breathe without them. Every company will have an API. Maybe every human will have an API.”