What Makes a Great API? The Five Keys

Adam DuVander, July 19th, 2012

We’ve seen over 6,500 APIs added to our directory, but we acknowledge they’re not all great. In fact, there’s a known secret if you’ve spent much time with APIs: creating a great API is really, really hard. There are a few attributes we’ve noticed that can make a big difference. Yesterday ProgrammableWeb’s John Musser gave a standing room only talk at OSCon about the topic of a great API and boiled it down to five keys.

5 Keys to a Great API

  • Provide a valuable service
  • Have a plan and a business model
  • Make it simple and flexible
  • It should be managed and measured
  • Provide great developer support

The slides are embedded below and provide more detail about each of the five keys. Rare is the API that has all five. The first, a valuable service, might be the most important. If you built an otherwise great API on top of a lousy service, it’s lipstick on a pig.

Similarly, you can’t just staple an API on to a great service. You need to plan it and then you need to support it. Then, if you manage and measure the API, you’ll likely realize it needs to be flexible to fit many different developer needs.

Even if your API is supporting another service, it is still itself a full-fledged product. A truly great API acknowledges this by hitting all five keys.

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8 Responses to “What Makes a Great API? The Five Keys”

August 2nd, 2012
at 7:01 am
Comment by: The API Measurement Secret: Know What Metrics Matter

[...] the keys to a great API is one that is managed or measured. One of the common questions we get at ProgrammableWeb is [...]

August 3rd, 2012
at 7:01 am
Comment by: Top 10 API Worst Practices

[...] try to stay positive at ProgrammableWeb. We’ve talked a lot about the keys to a great API, but not so much about what some of the lesser APIs do. And, with a directory of over 6,000 APIs, [...]

September 24th, 2012
at 2:59 am
Comment by: Robert Morschel

Very helpful presentation!

October 15th, 2012
at 3:37 pm
Comment by: Horasweb

Thank you very much for the presentation… It help me to understand more about how to choose an api source :)

November 2nd, 2012
at 7:58 am
Comment by: Building Great APIs: The API Gold Standard (Part I) - 3scale3scale

[...] in July, John Musser wrote a excellent post over at programmableweb on what it takes to build great APIs (also check out his OSCON slides on [...]

November 3rd, 2012
at 5:22 am
Comment by: What makes a great API? | My Daily Feeds

[...] Hacker News http://blog.programmableweb.com/2012/07/19/what-makes-a-great-api-the-five-keys/ This entry was posted in Uncategorized by admin. Bookmark the [...]

November 4th, 2012
at 5:47 am
Comment by: 5 věcí, které dělají dobré API ?! : ITDrawer.com

[...] http://blog.programmableweb.com/2012/07/19/what-makes-a-great-api-the-five-keys/ Tweet Last Post [...]

November 4th, 2012
at 9:27 pm
Comment by: [Webdeb Video] What Makes a Great API? The Five Keys « clasense4 blog

[...] : http://blog.programmableweb.com/2012/07/19/what-makes-a-great-api-the-five-keys/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInEmailGoogle [...]

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APIs, mashups and code. Because the world's your programmable oyster.

John Musser
Founder, ProgrammableWeb

Adam DuVander
Executive Editor, ProgrammableWeb. Author, Map Scripting 101. Lover, APIs.