We kept coming back to a distinction between whether the API is authenticated or public. Am I getting at my own data or am I going for something aggregated?
Most mashups make use of public APIs. Indeed, data is usually more valuable and useful in aggregated form. That stops some sites from offering APIs, because they fear giving away all the stuff that makes their site tick. Of those who do open up, many use authenticated APIs, which limits the result-set to only stuff associated with one user’s account.
No matter which a site chooses, the question that needs to be answered is how they take advantage of being open. The video-sharing behemoth YouTube has an API, but the biggest way they grew was by allowing people to embed their movies. Somehow the link back to their site made traffic snowball. Pretty amazing. So, while they give away videos on other peoples’ sites, they end up getting more direct visitors through that branding. (Mark Cuban isn’t convinced this is a good idea).
Is the secret to have a widget that is used along-side the API? That’s what Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! do with their maps. But what do these big companies get out of providing such a valuable service for free? I guess brand recognition and free research from mashup makers is enough.
Ryan said something like, “A good use case for APIs is to ask whether it’s letting users make your service better.” This is definitely a reason for authenticated APIs. Let a user get at the data in their account in new and innovative ways.
At the same time, the authentication ties you to the originating service, much like a widget would in the public example. It’s a partially-open approach, but it seems to work, and you get credit for your service. And that’s really what it’s about, right? If you relinquish some control, you should get something in return. If you’re a mashup maker, that means you should be giving something back. Isn’t that the goal of being open?