Topic 3: The ABCs of APIs


One of the biggest issues we face right now in tech more generally is acronyms. They are pervasive and confusing. They assume a knowing that is often surface, and acronyms for terms like API, a.k.a. Application Programming Interface, take a confusing term and make it downright confounding. But that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, APIs can be understandable, and we have it from a very good source, Kin Lane, that they are potentially transformative for how we share, manage and control our personal data. Kin Lane provide a brilliant primer/narrative of the emergence of APIs here;

Explore that site, then come back here and think about the following discussion points:

  • According to Kin, What so damn transformative about APIs?
  • How are they different from RSS?
  • What are their limitations?
  • Is there a transportation metaphor for APIs?


I offer you an imperfect though transport related metaphor - the Falkirk (town of my birth) Wheel that connects boats between the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals. There’s another boat lift not too far from where I live that connects boats between the River Weaver and the Trent and Union Canal so we have the old and the new of boat lifts.


All the way at the end of the API guy page, he makes this remark:
“With API literacy you don’t have to understand how APIs work, but you should only use online services that have an API, and know who has access to your data and content, while also being able to download and walk away with your own valuable information that you have generated via ANY online service.” This last part will not happen on its own. When data structures themselves are not in sync, we need again other APIs/middleware to export/import. It would also require to give the individual access/change rights and the right to be fully forgotten.

One big limitation I can think of is the propagation of errors.

I would say the subway system would be a fitting metaphor for now. Dark tunnels connecting various points in the information landscape. Traffic goes both ways, and those who can read/understand the plan can travel effortlessly and almost continuously between home, bank, local counsel, school, shop, etc.


I think about those who can travel as effortlessly as you mention, @hsp, may be an illusion . . . most people I know who travel like that know how to go where they go, with little knowledge of where all those other paths or routes travel. Just like the link @jimgroom shared, it takes a technical topic and confirms IMHO why only techies focus on this, as it is more than what I need when I need it.

Sorta reminds me of Knowles and Andragogy, and a need to know. I will look at a map when I need to go someplace beyond my regular routes while also trying to figure out APIs if I want things to talk to one another.

There, pot stirred (or acronyms alphabet-souped)??



Interesting that you mention RSS as well. I had it on my mind that API and RSS are bad for branding. I notice for instance wikis and social intranets have taken off much more than RSS readers. I think it the name had been online newspapers or whatever, RSS readers could have been much more populair. I fear the same is true for API/ experience API.