These are the news items I've curated in my monitoring of the API space that have some relevance to the API definition conversation and I wanted to include in my research. I'm using all of these links to better understand how the space is testing their APIs, going beyond just monitoring and understand the details of each request and response.13 Jun 2017
I love what the folks over at USAFacts have done with their effort to educate everyone regarding how the US works (or doesn’t). I commend Steve Ballmer for the money he’s put into the project and the obviously huge amount of work they have put into making some pretty complex things understandable. However, I just have one critique: I wish they had an API, accompanied with a more sophisticated sharing and embeddable approach to publishing the wealth of valuable information contained within the site.
You can share links to specific sections of USAFacts, but it is just a generic image with a link to each area of the site. The site is exactly what we need in a Trump era, and is full of valuable factoids about how things work, but we need more eye candy for sharing, and the ability to share more granular level details about what is contained within the project. Journalists should be able to craft stories around finance and population via a graph, chart, or other detail that links back to the site. In the current state, you have to be pretty motivated and truly care about this stuff to visit the site and get involved–this represents a pretty light portion of the US population (maybe we could get a chart ;-).
All it would take to accomplish this is a pretty simple JSON API with some D3.js or other API visualization magic. With an API, data-savvy journalists, and other 3rd party developers could help carry the load when it comes to developing storytelling tooling that could help USAFacts make a bigger impact. Think about the impact that Facebook and Twitter cards had on the election when it came to sharing news (or fake news) with the public–we need USAFacts to be richly embedded in everyone’s timeline, with meaningful storytelling behind when a user is looking to know more. The facts have to be portable, shareable, visual, and tell a story–this is something an API excels at being an engine for.
I understand that USAFacts is just getting started, and maybe they are working on, but without any sort of road map, I have no way of knowing. If the folks behind the important project want to ensure the site lives on beyond the last wave of press releases they need to invest heavily in an API, as well as an embeddable and social sharing strategy that will help spread the valuable facts across the web where they need to be.
Auth0 has released a pretty interesting way to extend your web applications using what is an embeddable, serverless, webhooks environment–for lack of a better description. It’s a pretty interesting way to extend applications in a scrappy, hackable, scriptable, webhooky kind of way. The extensions are definitely not for non-developers, but provide a kind of scriptable view source that any brave user could use to get some interesting things done within an existing web application interface.
Here are some of the selling features of Auth0 extensions:
- They are deployed outside of your product and managed externally.
- They run securely and in isolation from your SaaS application. The SaaS will not go down due to a faulty Webhook.
- They are generally easy for a developer to create, whether it’s your own engineers, customers, or partners.
- They can be authored in a number of programming languages.
- They can use whatever third-party dependencies they need.
I think it is an interesting approach to extending existing applications using Webhooks. I’m guessing some users might be intimidated by it, but I could see it be something that developers and tech savvy users could hack together some pretty interesting implementations. Then when you start saving these interesting scripts, making them available to power users via a catalog–I could see some useful things emerge. I remember several jobs I’ve had that had some sort of universal SQL text area within a system, allowing power users to craft and reuse useful SQL scripts–this seems like a similar approach, but for the API age.
I’m curious to see where this kind of solution goes. It is a quick way to extend SaaS functionality, allowing users to get more from an application without expensive developer cycles, and offloading the compute to external services. I think it is a creative convergence of what I see as embeddable, serverless, and webhooks–all part of an effective API strategy. I’m hoping it injects some creativity and extensibility into existing apps, allowing them to better serve the long tail of users needs in an API serverless webhook way.
I am working to push forward my embeddable API research today, so I'm on the hunt for new tools and standards that can be included in my research and put to work by API providers. One of the top reasons for doing embeddable tools is the sharing of information and media on the web. Share buttons have become ubiquitous, so I wanted to have some standard approaches to making them a default part of API operations.
While monitoring the API space I came across "a proposal to add an API to the web for sharing text, URLs and images to an arbitrary destination of the user's choice":
Web Share is a proposed web API to enable a site to share data (text, URLs, images, etc) to an arbitrary destination of the user's choice. It could be a system service, a native app or another website. The goal is to enable web developers to build a generic "share" button that the user can click to trigger a system share dialog.
The current options for sharing content from a web page are:
- Share buttons to specific web services (e.g., Facebook and Twitter buttons).
- Share buttons built into the browser UI. Many browsers, especially on mobile, have a "share" button that sends the current page URL to a native app of the user's choice.
Web Share provides a pretty simple, yet useful example for sharing links. I'm adding it to tmy toolbox for my embeddable research. Once I gather a variety of other tools and standards I will step back to look at the 100K view. I'm hoping to stimulate a more embeddable approach to conversational interfaces, something that us asynchronous antisocial folk can work with, going beyond just voice, and messaging.
I have been profiling all of the Google APIs lately, a process that always yields a significant amount of stories for my notebook. One element of Google's approach to delivering APIs that I found relevant in the Google+ portal, was their embeddable tooling. This is an area of the API lifecycle I'm regularly evangelizing, and always looking for good examples to support my research.
I think that the six embeddable tools Google offers up as part of their social API represent the top embeddable tooling I see across this space. Partially because of the dominance of social media platform, but also because they make sense to end-users, and accomplish common things that people want to accomplish online.
Share, follow, and vote buttons are relevant to any platform with user accounts. Is yours available via API, enabling this type of tools? Then the badges, snippets, and embedded posts are relevant to any company, organization, institution, and agency looking to share content over the web (everyone wants to do this). I'm going to start a list of essential embeddable building blocks, providing a getting started list for companies looking to develop embeddable tooling for their consumers--Google gives me another good reference to add to my research.
I wish someone would start an API embeddables service, something like Zapier, but for embeddable content, tooling, and actions. I've talked about this in terms of conversational interfaces, but think there is an opportunity to do specifically for API-driven content. Allowing people to easily authenticate, and generate profile badges, embeddable content listings and details, and other long tail content opportunities. I'll keep beating this drum until something emerges--because it is what I do.
I'm keeping an eye on the different approaches to deploying infrastructure coming out of AWS, Google, Microsoft and other providers. In my version of the near future, we should be able to deploy any API we want, in any infrastructure we want with a single push of a button. We are getting there, as I'm seeing more publish to Heroku buttons, AWS and Azure deployment packages, and I recently came across the Google Cloud Launcher, which I think will work well for deploying a variety of API driven solutions--we just need more selection and a button!
All the parts and pieces for this type of push button API deployment exist already, we just need someone to step up and provide a dead simple framework for defining and embedding the buttons, abstracting away the complexities of each cloud platform. I want to be able to take a single manifest for my open source or wholesale API on Github, and allow anyone to deploy it into Heroku, AWS, Google, Azure, or anywhere else they want. I want the technical, business, and legal complexities of deployment abstracted away for me, the API provider.
API management has matured a lot over the last 10 years, and API design and definitions are currently flourishing. We need a lot more investment in helping people easily deploy APIs, wherever they need. I think this layer of interoperability is the responsibility of the emerging API service providers like Restlet, DreamFactory, or maybe even APIMATIC. I will keep tracking on what I'm seeing evolve out of the leading cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and now Google with their Cloud Launcher. I will also keep pushing on my API service provider partners in the space to enable API deployment like this--I am guessing they will just need a little nudging to see the opportunity around providing API deployment in this seamless, cloud-agnostic way.
I see quite a few rogue APIs, and often rogue SDKs, but this is the first time I've come across a rogue embeddable button. While browsing Product Hunt this morning I came across this rogue Snapchat embeddable button, which allows you to promote your Snapchat account on any website.
It just makes me sad that platforms don't just ignore platform fans and advocates like this, but actively work to lock things down to prevent this kind of serendipity from happening. Why would you want to shut down people who are looking to promote your tool? You should be enabling them.
If Snapchat had a proper API portal, they would take this signal, internalize it, and turn it into an official set of embeddable tools for the messaging platform. #derp
During the latest IFTTT flareup, I realized how much I haven't written about my feelings surrounding API integratio service providers, iPaas, or whatever else you call it. Something that always frustrates me in the future, as I am unable to reference my earlier thoughts with a specific URL. So while I am ranting about the lack of APIs for these integration platform as a service (iPaaS) provider, let me add to my list of critical elements I feel are missing from the space: Embeddability!
As a user of your service, provide me an API, so I can embed your API recipes into any website, web and mobile application. While the fact that Zapier does have a public API, where IFTTT does not have one at all, the Zapier API doesn't not provide me any access to what API integration recipes (Zaps) are available (ie, core business value). I cannot automatically search for all the Google Spreadsheet integrations. I cannot search for all the Twitter API integrations. Let alone embed the actions enabled by these recipes on any of my website.
When preparing any list of meaningful actions you can take with APIs, like I did for my university workshop a couple weeks ago, I have to manually go to Zapier, search for actions, and then craft my own link to the detail page (which isn't public BTW). The response from Zapier to why there is no API for this, each time I ask, is that nobody has ever asked for that? Which is starting to smell more and more like business lock-in to me, in the wake of the IFTTT / Pinboard shitstorm.
It isn't like the concept of an API driven, embeddable button is anything new. Facebook Share, Twitter Tweet? I just can't buy the fact that nobody has asked for a Run Zapier Zap button? I'm just guessing that folks aren't seeing the embed opportunity, when they are down in the weeds, like with the Run in Postman button was. It just takes time for it to happen, a process I am always looking for ways to expedite. ;-)
Anyways. If you are running an API integration service provider, please:
- Pay APIs forward by having an API for your platform.
- Make all aspects of your service available via API.
- Provide embeddable buttons, and linkable hooks at any point in the action.
If you do this, your service will become more than just a destination for discovering and enabling API driven recipes. With a complete API, your platform can become baked into the API enabled fabric of our web, and mobile world(s). As an API integration platform as a service (iPass) provider, it is your responsibility to pay the API concept forward (hear the laughter of my haterz), and not terminate, and capture all the value generated via APIs. The reasons for this are much more than the altruistic visions you may think I'm speaking of, and touch on real world business advantages that you are missing.
The popular API client tool Postman just launched an embeddable "run in Postman" button, that you can use to fast track integration with your API(s). Shortly after I wrote a post about the importance of API definition driven embeddable tools for API service providers, Postman contacted me and said, "hey! we are already working on that!" ;-)
Embeddable tooling for APIs is nothing new, something we've seen leading providers like Twitter and Facebook employ successfully, but it is something that is fairly new for API service providers. Having a robust embeddable strategy like this one from Postman, and last week's example from SDK provider APIMATIC, is something all API service providers should be considering in 2016.
In my work everyday as the API Evangelist, I get to have some very interesting conversations, with a wide variety of folks, about how they are using APIs, as well as brainstorming other ways they can approach their API strategy allowing them to be more effective. One of the things that keep me going in this space is this diversity. One day I’m looking at Developer.Trade.Gov for the Department of Commerce, the next talking to WordPress about APIs for 60 million websites, and then I’m talking with the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the Family Search API, which is actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records from around the world.
I’m so lucky I get to speak with all of these folks about the benefits, and perils of APIs, helping them think through their approach to opening up their valuable resources using APIs. The process is nourishing for me because I get to speak to such a diverse number of implementations, push my understanding of what is possible with APIs, while also sharpening my critical eye, understanding of where APIs can help, or where they can possibly go wrong. Personally, I find a couple of things very intriguing about the Family Search API story:
- Mapping the worlds genealogical history using a publicly available API — Going Big!!
- Potential from participation by not just big partners, but the long tail of genealogical geeks
- Transparency, openness, and collaboration shining through as the solution beyond just the technology
- The mission driven focus of the API overlapping with my obsession for API evangelism intrigues and scares me
- Have existing developer area, APIs, and seemingly necessary building blocks but failed to achieve a platform level
I’m open to talking with anyone about their startup, SMB, enterprise, organizational, institutional, or government API, always leaving open a 15 minute slot to hear a good story, which turned into more than an hour of discussion with the Family Search team. See, Family Search already has an API, they have the technology in order, and they even have many of the essential business building blocks as well, but where they are falling short is when it comes to dialing in both the business and politics of their developer ecosystem to discover the right balance that will help them truly become a platform—which is my specialty. ;-)
This brings us to the million dollar question: How does one become a platform?
All of this makes Family Search an interesting API story. The scope of the API, and to take something this big to the next level, Family Search has to become a platform, and not a superficial “platform” where they are just catering to three partners, but nourishing a vibrant long tail ecosystem of website, web application, single page application, mobile applications, and widget developers. Family Search is at an important reflection point, they have all the parts and pieces of a platform, they just have to figure out exactly what changes need to be made to open up, and take things to the next level.
First, let’s quantify the company, what is FamilySearch? “ For over 100 years, FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide”, believing that “learning about our ancestors helps us better understand who we are—creating a family bond, linking the present to the past, and building a bridge to the future”.
FamilySearch is 1.2 billion total records, with 108 million completed in 2014 so far, with 24 million awaiting, as well as 386 active genealogical projects going on. Family Search provides the ability to manage photos, stories, documents, people, and albums—allowing people to be organized into a tree, knowing the branch everyone belongs to in the global family tree.
FamilySearch, started out as the Genealogical Society of Utah, which was founded in 1894, and dedicate preserving the records of the family of mankind, looking to "help people connect with their ancestors through easy access to historical records”. FamilySearch is a mission-driven, non-profit organization, ran by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All of this comes together to define an entity, that possesses an image that will appeal to some, while leave concern for others—making for a pretty unique formula for an API driven platform, that doesn’t quite have a model anywhere else.
FamilySearch consider what they deliver as as a set of record custodian services:
- Image Capture - Obtaining a preservation quality image is often the most costly and time-consuming step for records custodians. Microfilm has been the standard, but digital is emerging. Whether you opt to do it yourself or use one of our worldwide camera teams, we can help.
- Online Indexing - Once an image is digitized, key data needs to be transcribed in order to produce a searchable index that patrons around the world can access. Our online indexing application harnesses volunteers from around the world to quickly and accurately create indexes.
- Digital Conversion - For those records custodians who already have a substantial collection of microfilm, we can help digitize those images and even provide digital image storage.
- Online Access - Whether your goal is to make your records freely available to the public or to help supplement your budget needs, we can help you get your records online. To minimize your costs and increase access for your users, we can host your indexes and records on FamilySearch.org, or we can provide tools and expertise that enable you to create your own hosted access.
- Preservation - Preservation copies of microfilm, microfiche, and digital records from over 100 countries and spanning hundreds of years are safely stored in the Granite Mountain Records Vault—a long-term storage facility designed for preservation.
FamilySearch provides a proven set of services that users can take advantage of via a web applications, as well as iPhone and Android mobile apps, resulting in the online community they have built today. FamilySearch also goes beyond their basic web and mobile application services, and is elevated to software as a service (SaaS) level by having a pretty robust developer center and API stack.
FamilySearch provides the required first impression when you land in the FamilySearch developer center, quickly explaining what you can do with the API, "FamilySearch offers developers a way to integrate web, desktop, and mobile apps with its collaborative Family Tree and vast digital archive of records”, and immediately provides you with a getting started guide, and other supporting tutorials.
FamilySearch provides access to over 100 API resources in the twenty separate groups: Authorities, Change History, Discovery, Discussions, Memories, Notes, Ordinances, Parents and Children, Pedigree, Person, Places, Records, Search and Match, Source Box, Sources, Spouses, User, Utilities, Vocabularies, connecting you to the core FamilySearch genealogical engine.
The FamilySearch developer area provides all the common, and even some forward leaning technical building blocks:
To support developers, FamilySearch provides a fairly standard support setup:
To augment support efforts there are also some other interesting building blocks:
Setting the stage for FamilySearch evolving to being a platform, they even posses some necessary partner level building blocks:
There is even an application gallery showcasing what web, mac & windows desktop, and mobile applications developers have built. FamilySearch even encourages developers to “donate your software skills by participating in community projects and collaborating through the FamilySearch Developer Network”.
Many of the ingredients of a platform exist within the current FamilySearch developer hub, at least the technical elements, and some of the common business, and political building blocks of a platform, but what is missing? This is what makes FamilySearch a compelling story, because it emphasizes one of the core elements of API Evangelist—that all of this API stuff only works when the right blend of technical, business, and politics exists.
Establishing A Rich Partnership Environment
FamilySearch has some strong partnerships, that have helped establish FamilySearch as the genealogy service it is today. FamilySearch knows they wouldn’t exist without the partnerships they’ve established, but how do you take it to the next and grow to a much larger, organic API driven ecosystem where a long tail of genealogy businesses, professionals, and enthusiasts can build on, and contribute to, the FamilySearch platform.
FamilySearch knows the time has come to make a shift to being an open platform, but is not entirely sure what needs to happen to actually stimulate not just the core FamilySearch partners, but also establish a vibrant long tail of developers. A developer portal is not just a place where geeky coders come to find what they need, it is a hub where business development occurs at all levels, in both synchronous, and asynchronous ways, in a 24/7 global environment.
FamilySearch acknowledge they have some issues when it comes investing in API driven partnerships:
- “Platform” means their core set of large partners
- Not treating all partners like first class citizens
- Competing with some of their partners
- Don’t use their own API, creating a gap in perspective
FamilySearch knows if they can work out the right configuration, they can evolve FamilySearch from a digital genealogical web and mobile service to a genealogical platform. If they do this they can scale beyond what they’ve been able to do with a core set of partners, and crowdsource the mapping of the global family tree, allowing individuals to map their own family trees, while also contributing to the larger global tree. With a proper API driven platform this process doesn’t have to occur via the FamiliySearch website and mobile app, it can happen in any web, desktop, or mobile application anywhere.
FamilySearch already has a pretty solid development team taking care of the tech of the FamilySearch API, and they have 20 people working internally to support partners. They have a handle on the tech of their API, they just need to get a handle on the business and politics of their API, and invest in the resources that needed to help scale the FamilySearch API being just a developer area, to being a growing genealogical developer community, to a full blow ecosystem that span not just the FamilySearch developer portal, but thousands of other sites and applications around the globe.
A Good Dose Of API Evangelism To Shift Culture A Bit
A healthy API evangelism strategy brings together a mix of business, marketing, sales and technology disciplines into a new approach to doing business for FamilySearch, something that if done right, can open up FamilySearch to outside ideas, and with the right framework manage to allow the platform to move beyond just certification, and partnering to also investment, and acquisition of data, content, talent, applications, and partners via the FamilySearch developer platform.
Think of evangelism as the grease in the gears of the platform allowing it to grow, expand, and handle a larger volume, of outreach, and support. API evangelism works to lubricate all aspects of platform operation.
First, lets kick off with setting some objectives for why we are doing this, what are we trying to accomplish:
- Increase Number of Records - Increase the number of overall records in the FamilySearch database, contributing the larger goals of mapping the global family tree.
- Growth in New Users - Growing the number of new users who are building on the FamilySearch API, increase the overall headcount fro the platform.
- Growth In Active Apps - Increase not just new users but the number of actual apps being built and used, not just counting people kicking the tires.
- Growth in Existing User API Usage - Increase how existing users are putting the FamilySearch APIs. Educate about new features, increase adoption.
- Brand Awareness - One of the top reasons for designing, deploying and managing an active APIs is increase awareness of the FamilySearch brand.
- What else?
What does developer engagement look like for the FamilySearch platform?
- Active User Engagement - How do we reach out to existing, active users and find out what they need, and how do we profile them and continue to understand who they are and what they need. Is there a direct line to the CRM?
- Fresh Engagement - How is FamilySearch contacting new developers who have registered weekly to see what their immediate needs are, while their registration is fresh in their minds.
- Historical Engagement - How are historical active and / or inactive developers being engaged to better understand what their needs are and would make them active or increase activity.
- Social Engagement - Is FamilySearch profiling the URL, Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn, and Github profiles, and then actively engage via these active channels?
Establish a Developer Focused Blog For Storytelling
- Projects - There are over 390 active projects on the FamilySearch platform, plus any number of active web, desktop, and mobile applications. All of this activity should be regularly profiled as part of platform evangelism. An editorial assembly line of technical projects that can feed blog stories, how-tos, samples and Github code libraries should be taking place, establishing a large volume of exhaust via the FamlySearch platform.
- Stories - FamilySearch is great at writing public, and partner facing content, but there is a need to be writing, editing and posting of stories derived from the technically focused projects, with SEO and API support by design.
- Syndication - Syndication to Tumblr, Blogger, Medium and other relevant blogging sites on regular basis with the best of the content.
Mapping Out The Geneology Landscape
- Competition Monitoring - Evaluation of regular activity of competitors via their blog, Twitter, Github and beyond.
- Alpha Players - Who are the vocal people in the genealogy space with active Twitter, blogs, and Github accounts.
- Top Apps - What are the top applications in the space, whether built on the FamilySearch platform or not, and what do they do?
- Social - Mapping the social landscape for genealogy, who is who, and who should the platform be working with.
- Keywords - Established a list of keywords to use when searching for topics at search engines, QA, forums, social bookmarking and social networks. (should already be done by marketing folks)
- Cities & Regions - Target specific markets in cities that make sense to your evangelism strategy, what are local tech meet ups, what are the local organizations, schools, and other gatherings. Who are the tech ambassadors for FamilySearch in these spaces?
Adding To Feedback Loop From Forum Operations
- Stories - Deriving of stories for blog derived from forum activity, and the actual needs of developers.
- FAQ Feed - Is this being updated regularly with stuff?
- Streams - other stream giving the platform a heartbeat?
Being Social About Platform Code and Operations With Github
- Setup Github Account - Setup FamilySearch platform developer account and bring internal development team into a team umbrella as part of.
- Github Relationships - Managing of followers, forks, downloads and other potential relationships via Github, which has grown beyond just code, and is social.
- Github Repositories - Managing of code sample Gists, official code libraries and any samples, starter kits or other code samples generated through projects.
Adding To The Feedback Loop From The Bigger FAQ Picture
- Quora - Regular trolling of Quora and responding to relevant [Client Name] or industry related questions.
- Stack Exchange - Regular trolling of Stack Exchange / Stack Overflow and responding to relevant FamilySearch or industry related questions.
- FAQ - Add questions from the bigger FAQ picture to the local FamilySearch FAQ for referencing locally.
Leverage Social Engagement And Bring In Developers Too
- Facebook - Consider setting up of new API specific Facebook company. Posting of all API evangelism activities and management of friends.
- Google Plus - Consider setting up of new API specific Google+ company. Posting of all API evangelism activities and management of friends.
- LinkedIn - Consider setting up of new API specific LinkedIn profile page who will follow developers and other relevant users for engagement. Posting of all API evangelism activities.
- Twitter - Consider setting up of new API specific Twitter account. Tweeting of all API evangelism activity, relevant industry landscape activity, discover new followers and engage with followers.
Sharing Bookmarks With the Social Space
- Hacker News - Social bookmarking of all relevant API evangelism activities as well as relevant industry landscape topics to Hacker News, to keep a fair and balanced profile, as well as network and user engagement.
- Product Hunt - Product Hunt is a place to share the latest tech creations, providing an excellent format for API providers to share details about their new API offerings.
- Reddit - Social bookmarking of all relevant API evangelism activities as well as relevant industry landscape topics to Reddit, to keep a fair and balanced profile, as well as network and user engagement.
Communicate Where The Roadmap Is Going
- Roadmap - Provide regular roadmap feedback based upon developer outreach and feedback.
- Changelog - Make sure the change log always reflects the roadmap communication or there could be backlash.
Establish A Presence At Events
- Conferences - What are the top conferences occurring that we can participate in or attend--pay attention to call for papers of relevant industry events.
- Hackathons - What hackathons are coming up in 30, 90, 120 days? Which would should be sponsored, attended, etc.
- Meetups - What are the best meetups in target cities? Are there different formats that would best meet our goals? Are there any sponsorship or speaking opportunities?
- Family History Centers - Are there local opportunities for the platform to hold training, workshops and other events at Family History Centers?
- Learning Centers - Are there local opportunities for the platform to hold training, workshops and other events at Learning Centers?
Measuring All Platform Efforts
- Activity By Group - Summary and highlights from weekly activity within the each area of API evangelism strategy.
- New Registrations - Historical and weekly accounting of new developer registrations across APis.
- Volume of Calls - Historical and weekly accounting of API calls per API.
- Number of Apps - How many applications are there.
Essential Internal Evangelism Activities
- Storytelling - Telling stories of an API isn’t just something you do externally, what stories need to be told internally to make sure an API initiative is successful.
- Conversations - Incite internal conversations about the FamilySearch platform. Hold brown bag lunches if you need to, or internal hackathons to get them involved.
- Participation - It is very healthy to include other people from across the company in API operations. How can we include people from other teams in API evangelism efforts. Bring them to events, conferences and potentially expose them to local, platform focused events.
- Reporting - Sometimes providing regular numbers and reports to key players internally can help keep operations running smooth. What reports can we produce? Make them meaningful.
All of this evangelism starts with a very external focus, which is a hallmark of API and developer evangelism efforts, but if you notice by the end we are bringing it home to the most important aspect of platform evangelism, the internal outreach. This is the number one reason APIs fail, is due to a lack of internal evangelism, educating top and mid-level management, as well as lower level staff, getting buy-in and direct hands-on involvement with the platform, and failing to justify budget costs for the resources needed to make a platform successful.
Top-Down Change At FamilySearch
The change FamilySearch is looking for already has top level management buy-in, the problem is that the vision is not in lock step sync with actual platform operations. When regular projects developed via the FamilySearch platform are regularly showcased to top level executives, and stories consistent with platform operations are told, management will echo what is actually happening via the FamilySearch. This will provide a much more ongoing, deeper message for the rest of the company, and partners around what the priorities of the platform are, making it not just a meaningless top down mandate.
An example of this in action is with the recent mandate from President Obama, that all federal agencies should go “machine readable by default”, which includes using APIs and open data outputs like JSON, instead of document formats like PDF. This top down mandate makes for a good PR soundbite, but in reality has little affect on the ground at federal agencies. In reality it has taken two years of hard work on the ground, at each agency, between agencies, and with the public to even begin to make this mandate a truth at over 20 of the federal government agencies.
Top down change is a piece of the overall platform evolution at FamilySearch, but is only a piece. Without proper bottom-up, and outside-in change, FamilySearch will never evolve beyond just being a genealogical software as a service with an interesting API. It takes much more than leadership to make a platform.
Bottom-Up Change At FamilySearch
One of the most influential aspects of APIs I have seen at companies, institutions, and agencies is the change of culture brought when APIs move beyond just a technical IT effort, and become about making resources available across an organization, and enabling people to do their job better. Without an awareness, buy-in, and in some cases evangelist conversion, a large organization will not be able to move from a service orientation to a platform way of thinking.
If a company as a whole is unaware of APIs, either at the company or organization, as well as out in the larger world with popular platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and others—it is extremely unlikely they will endorse, let alone participate in moving from being a digital service to platform. Employees need to see the benefits of a platform to their everyday job, and their involvement cannot require what they would perceive as extra work to accomplish platform related duties. FamilySearch employees need to see the benefits the platform brings to the overall mission, and play a role in this happening—even if it originates from a top-down mandate.
Top bookseller Amazon was already on the path to being a platform with their set of commerce APIs, when after a top down mandate from CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon internalized APIs in such a way, that the entire company interacted, and exchange resources using web APIs, resulting in one of the most successful API platforms—Amazon Web Services (AWS). Bezos mandated that if an Amazon department needed to procure a resource from another department, like server or storage space from IT, it need to happen via APIs. This wasn’t a meaningless top-down mandate, it made employees life easier, and ultimately made the entire company more nimble, and agile, while also saving time and money. Without buy-in, and execution from Amazon employees, what we know as the cloud would never have occurred.
Change at large enterprises, organizations, institutions and agencies, can be expedited with the right top-down leadership, but without the right platform evangelism strategy, that includes internal stakeholders as not just targets of outreach efforts, but also inclusion in operations, it can result in sweeping, transformational changes. This type of change at a single organization can effect how an entire industry operates, similar to what we’ve seen from the ultimate API platform pioneer, Amazon.
Outside-In Change At FamilySearch
The final layer of change that needs to occur to bring FamilySearch from being just a service to a true platform, is opening up the channels to outside influence when it comes not just to platform operations, but organizational operations as well. The bar is high at FamilySearch. The quality of services, and expectation of the process, and adherence to the mission is strong, but if you are truly dedicated to providing a database of all mankind, you are going to have to let mankind in a little bit.
FamilySearch is still the keeper of knowledge, but to become a platform you have to let in the possibility that outside ideas, process, and applications can bring value to the organization, as well as to the wider genealogical community. You have to evolve beyond notions that the best ideas from inside the organization, and just from the leading partners in the space. There are opportunities for innovation and transformation in the long-tail stream, but you have to have a platform setup to encourage, participate in, and be able to identify value in the long-tail stream of an API platform.
Twitter is one of the best examples of how any platform will have to let in outside ideas, applications, companies, and individuals. Much of what we consider as Twitter today was built in the platform ecosystem from the iPhone and Android apps, to the desktop app TweetDeck, to terminology like the #hashtag. Over the last 5 years, Twitter has worked hard to find the optimal platform balance, regarding how they educate, communicate, invest, acquire, and incentives their platform ecosystem. Listening to outside ideas goes well beyond the fact that Twitter is a publicly available social platform, it is about having such a large platform of API developers, and it is impossible to let in all ideas, but through a sophisticated evangelism strategy of in-person, and online channels, in 2014 Twitter has managed to find a balance that is working well.
Having a public facing platform doesn’t mean the flood gates are open for ideas, and thoughts to just flow in, this is where service composition, and the certification and partner framework for FamilySearch will come in. Through clear, transparent partners tiers, open and transparent operations and communications, an optimal flow of outside ideas, applications, companies and individuals can be established—enabling a healthy, sustainable amount of change from the outside world.
Knowing All Of Your Platform Partners
The hallmark of any mature online platform is a well established partner ecosystem. If you’ve made the transition from service to platform, you’ve established a pretty robust approach to not just certifying, and on boarding your partners, you also have stepped it up in knowing and understanding who they are, what their needs are, and investing in them throughout the lifecycle.
First off, profile everyone who comes through the front door of the platform. If they sign up for a public API key, who are they, and where do they potentially fit into your overall strategy. Don’t be pushy, but understanding who they are and what they might be looking for, and make sure you have a track for this type of user well defined.
Next, quality, and certify as you have been doing. Make sure the process is well documented, but also transparent, allowing companies and individuals to quickly understand what it will take to certified, what the benefits are, and examples of other partners who have achieved this status. As a developer, building a genealogical mobile app, I need to know what I can expect, and have some incentive for investing in the certification process.
Keep your friends close, and your competition closer. Open the door wide for your competition to become a platform user, and potentially partner. 100+ year old technology company Johnson Controls (JCI) was concerned about what the competition might do it they opened up their building efficient data resources to the public via the Panoptix API platform, when after it was launched, they realized their competition were now their customer, and a partner in this new approach to doing business online for JCI.
When Department of Energy decides what data and other resource it makes available via Data.gov or the agencies developer program it has to deeply consider how this could affect U.S. industries. The resources the federal agency possesses can be pretty high value, and huge benefits for the private sector, but in some cases how might opening up APIs, or limiting access to APIs help or hurt the larger economy, as well as the Department of Energy developer ecosystem—there are lots of considerations when opening up API resources, that vary from industry to industry.
There are no silver bullets when it comes to API design, deployment, management, and evangelism. It takes a lot of hard work, communication, and iterating before you strike the right balance of operations, and every business sector will be different. Without knowing who your platform users are, and being able to establish a clear and transparent road for them to follow to achieve partner status, FamilySearch will never elevate to a true platform. How can you scale the trusted layers of your platform, if your partner framework isn’t well documented, open, transparent, and well executed? It just can’t be done.
Meaningful Monetization For Platform
All of this will take money to make happen. Designing, and executing on the technical, and the evangelism aspects I’m laying out will cost a lot of money, and on the consumers side, it will take money to design, develop, and manage desktop, web, and mobile applications build around the FamilySearch platform. How will both the FamilySearch platform, and its participants make ends meet?
This conversation is a hard one for startups, and established businesses, let alone when you are a non-profit, mission driven organization. Internal developers cost money, server and bandwidth are getting cheaper but still are a significant platform cost--sustaining a sale, bizdev, and evangelism also will not be cheap. It takes money to properly deliver resources via APIs, and even if the lowest tiers of access are free, at some point consumers are going to have to pay for access, resources, and advanced features.
The conversation around how do you monetize API driven resources is going on across government, from cities up to the federal government. Where the thought of charging for access to public data is unheard of. These are public assets, and they should be freely available. While this is true, think of the same situation, but when it comes to physical public assets that are owned by the government, like parks. You can freely enjoy many city, county, and federal parks, there are sometimes small fees for usage, but if you want to actually sell something in a public park, you will need to buy permits, and often share revenue with the managing agency. We have to think critically about how we fund the publishing, and refinement of publicly owned digital assets, as with physical assets there will be much debate in coming years, around what is acceptable, and what is not.
Woven into the tiers of partner access, there should always be provisions for applying costs, overhead, and even generation of a little revenue to be applied in other ways. With great power, comes great responsibility, and along with great access for FamilySearch partners, many will also be required to cover costs of compute capacity, storage costs, and other hard facts of delivering a scalable platform around any valuable digital assets, whether its privately or publicly held.
Platform monetization doesn’t end with covering the costs of platform operation. Consumers of FamilySearch APIs will need assistance in identify the best ways to cover their own costs as well. Running a successful desktop, web or mobile application will take discipline, structure, and the ability to manage overhead costs, while also being able to generate some revenue through a clear business model. As a platform, FamilySearch will have to bring to the table some monetization opportunities for consumers, providing guidance as part of the certification process regarding what are best practices for monetization, and even some direct opportunities for advertising, in-app purchases and other common approaches to application monetization and sustainment.
Without revenue greasing the gears, no service can achieve platform status. As with all other aspects of platform operations the conversation around monetization cannot be on-sided, and just about the needs of the platform providers. Pro-active steps need to be taken to ensure both the platform provider, and its consumers are being monetized in the healthiest way possible, bringing as much benefit to the overall platform community as possible.
Open & Transparent Operations & Communications
How does all of this talk of platform and evangelism actually happen? It takes a whole lot of open, transparent communication across the board. Right now the only active part of the platform is the FamilySearch Developer Google Group, beyond that you don’t see any activity that is platform specific. There are active Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and mainstream and affiliate focused blogs, but nothing that serves the platform, contributed to the feedback loop that will be necessary to take the service to the next level.
On a public platform, communications cannot all be private emails, phone calls, or face to face meetings. One of the things that allows an online service to expand to become a platform, then scale and grow into robust, vibrant, and active community is a stream of public communications, which include blogs, forums, social streams, images, and video content. These communication channels cannot all be one way, meaning they need to include forum and social conversations, as well as showcase platform activity by API consumers.
Platform communications isn’t just about getting direct messages answered, it is about public conversation so everyone shares in the answer, and public storytelling to help guide and lead the platform, that together with support via multiple channels, establishes a feedback loop, that when done right will keep growing, expanding and driving healthy growth. The transparent nature of platform feedback loops are essential to providing everything the consumers will need, while also bringing a fresh flow of ideas, and insight within the FamilySearch firewall.
Truly Shifting FamilySearch The Culture
Top-down, bottom-up, outside-in, with constantly flow of oxygen via vibrant, flowing feedback loop, and the nourishing, and sanitizing sunlight of platform transparency, where week by week, month by month someone change can occur. It won’t all be good, there are plenty of problems that arise in ecosystem operations, but all of this has the potential to slowly shift culture when done right.
One thing that shows me the team over at FamilySearch has what it takes, is when I asked if I could write this up a story, rather than just a proposal I email them, they said yes. This is a true test of whether or not an organization might have what it takes. If you are unwilling to be transparent about the problems you have currently, and the work that goes into your strategy, it is unlikely you will have what it takes to establish the amount of transparency required for a platform to be successful.
When internal staff, large external partners, and long tail genealogical app developers and enthusiasts are in sync via a FamilySearch platform driven ecosystem, I think we can consider a shift to platform has occurred for FamilySearch. The real question is how do we get there?
Executing On Evangelism
This is not a definitive proposal for executing on an API evangelism strategy, merely a blueprint for the seed that can be used to start a slow, seismic shift in how FamilySearch engages its API area, in a way that will slowly evolve it into a community, one that includes internal, partner, and public developers, and some day, with the right set of circumstances, FamilySearch could grow into robust, social, genealogical ecosystem where everyone comes to access, and participate in the mapping of mankind.
- Defining Current Platform - Where are we now? In detail.
- Mapping the Landscape - What does the world of genealogy look like?
- Identifying Projects - What are the existing projects being developed via the platform?
- Define an API Evangelist Strategy - Actually flushing out of a detailed strategy.
- External Public
- External Partner
- Internal Stakeholder
- Internal Company-Wide
- Identify Resources - What resource currently exist? What are needed?
- Content / Storytelling
- Execute - What does execution of an API evangelist strategy look like?
- Iterate - What does iteration look like for an API evangelism strategy.
AS with many providers, you don’t want to this to take 5 years, so how do you take a 3-5 year cycle, and execute in 12-18 months?
- Invest In Evangelist Resources - It takes a team of evangelists to build a platform
- External Facing
- Partner Facing
- Internal Facing
- Development Resources - We need to step up the number of resources available for platform integration.
- Code Samples & SDKs
- Embeddable Tools
- Content Resources - A steady stream of content should be flowing out of the platform, and syndicated everywhere.
- Short Form (Blog)
- Long Form (White Paper & Case Study)
- Event Budget - FamilySearch needs to be everywhere, so people know that it exists. It can’t just be online.
There is nothing easy about this. It takes time, and resources, and there are only so many elements you can automate when it comes to API evangelism. For something that is very programmatic, it takes more of the human variable to make the API driven platform algorithm work. With that said it is possible to scale some aspects, and increase the awareness, presence, and effectiveness of FamilySearch platform efforts, which is really what is currently missing.
While as the API Evangelist, I cannot personally execute on every aspect of an API evangelism strategy for FamilySearch, I can provide essential planning expertise for the overall FamilySearch API strategy, as well as provide regular checkin with the team on how things are going, and help plan the roadmap. The two things I can bring to the table that are reflected in this proposal, is the understanding of where the FamilySearch API effort currently is, and what is missing to help get FamilySearch to the next stage of its platform evolution.
When operating within the corporate or organizational silo, it can be very easy to lose site of how other organizations, and companies, are approach their API strategy, and miss important pieces of how you need to shift your strategy. This is one of the biggest inhibitors of API efforts at large organizations, and is one of the biggest imperatives for companies to invest in their API strategy, and begin the process of breaking operations out of their silo.
What FamilySearch is facing demonstrates that APIs are much more than the technical endpoint that most believe, it takes many other business, and political building blocks to truly go from API to platform.
One of the security blogs I follow is Schneier on Security from Bruce Schneier. If you want to understand what is going on around the NSA and security, Bruce is the guy. I was tweeting out a story from his blog today and noticed his share buttons:
Simple, embeddable tools can be one of the most powerful tool in an API evangelists toolbox. While there was a wide variety of forces that were at play in the social API evolution, contributing to the success of Twitter and Facebook, embeddable buttons, badgers widgets definitely played a leading role.
One embeddable implementation that will go down in history alongside the Twitter share button and Facebook like button, is the Github Ribbon. The Github Ribbon is the thin little ribbon you are increasingly seeing on projects, sites and applications (notice them rolling out across the API Evangelist network), letting you know you that a site's source is available on Github, and available for you to download or fork.
Github has created a simple page where you can find an assortment of embeddable Github Ribbons, in multiple colors and positioning. If you are not satisfied with the colors, they also provide the PSD and even the original font that is used. A complete, fully branded, embeddable tool that encourages use.
Even without the tracking and API integration, Github Ribbons is an extremely powerful approach to branding, and great example of using embeddable tools in the wild.
Does anyone else notice the evolution of the Twitter developer area? The site has taken a page from the LinkedIn playbook and become more about embeddable buttons, badges and widgets than about APIs.
Granted, you can click on documentation and get at the REST API v 1.1. I'm not saying this is a good or bad thing. I'm a big supporter of embeddable strategies for API providers. I think that evolution is very telling of Twitter's API strategy and what type of "developer" they want to support with the API.
Whether or not you agree with Twitter's overall API strategy, there is a lot to learn from their approach to API driven embeddable tools. I will produce more pieces aobut their approach to cards, timelines, buttons and other embeddable tools.
I spent some time drinking IPAs and talking education technology with Audrey (@audreywatters) and a friend of ours Adam Wendt (@skinnyblimp), the COO of Iris Educational Media last week. IRIS Educational Media is a behavioral research and development company that provides educational resources for parents, parent educators, K-12 school staff, including teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and direct support employees.
During our discussion, Adam was describing how he wanted to make Iris Media resources available for people to use on any platform, by providing valuable embeddable tools and resources for organizations and professionals to use on their own sites and portals.
As Adam was talking, of course I’m thinking API. An API would not just a way to drive their own line of embeddable tools, but would also allow for other 3rd party developers to build specialized tools and widgets for other platforms that Iris Media might not have awareness, time or resources to focus on. Wanting to be available on numerous platforms is easy, but actually delivering on them can be costly and time consuming--APIs are a way to share this load with a 3rd party community.
An API could power Iris Media’s syndication similar to Youtube. The Youtube API, plus a robust embeddable tool strategy is behind the massive syndication and growth of the popular video platform. Iris Media could go further with its own API, by integrating a partner layer within their API platform, and provide developers, organizations and educational professionals the ability to earn revenue by syndicating or developing widgets and applications on top of the Iris Media API. This revenue could go a long way in ensuring some of these essential educational professionals organizations stay in operation and continue making an impact.
Engaging with people like Adam, who are truly making a difference in priority areas like education, is why I continue doing API Evangelist. APIs can help Iris Media be more successful in reaching its audience, but also empower the huge number of important individuals and organizations on the ground in communities around the globe, who deliver essential education where they are needed most.
There are some really great examples of embeddable, open data goodness over at the OpenSpending project, which is operated by the Open Knowledge Foundation, a non-profit with a missions to promote open knowledge and data.
The OpenSpending platform has a wealth of data regarding spending budgets from all over the world, providing key data that allows anyone track government and corporate financial transactions globally.
The OpenSpending platform has plenty of data visualizations avialable for use, but until recently these tools were only fixed and available on the OpenSpending site. Now they have begun developing and publishing a handful of cool, embeddable widgets that can be published anywhere:
All three visualizations are available as open-source code on Github. OpenSpending also provides examples you can play with using jsfiddle:
The embeddable tools provided by OpenSpending are exactly the types of tools I want to organize as part of my Hacker Storytelling work. I’m looking to build a wealth of embeddable tools that help people tell more meaningful, data driven stories.
I will be curating and tagging as many examples like this as I can, and continue to publish via Hacker Storytelling, for anyone to use.
I stumbled across the Google Civic Information API today, which allows developers to build applications around civic information including polling place, early vote location, candidate data, and election official information. As soon as I landed on the home page, I scanned the left hand navigation, and noticed the option for "embeddable tool".
As you know embeddable tools are are something I advocate all API owners should consider when assembling the building blocks of your API. I like Google's approach to the Google Voter Information Tool, which lets users look up their polling place, early vote sites, ballot, and election official information for the US 2012 General Election.
To support the embeddable tool, Google provides a quick overview, with instructions for "quick embed" and more granular options allowing anyone to configure region, address, local and other advanced settings.
Even though the 2012 election is over, I think Google's approach to providing embeddable tools with their APIs is potentially something that other API owners can follow, which will make your API accessible beyond just the developer community.
Spectagram uses JQuery to provide a basic set of embeddable tools for Instagram allowing users to embed widgets showing latest photos, popular photos, and photos by tag.
Instagram has been notoriously focused on their core product, which leaves a lot of areas open to its developer community. Even the first version of the Instagram API was created by a passionate developer.
Embeddable tools like widgets, gadgets and buttons built on top of an API are nothing new. A healthy embeddable strategy was behind the success of popular platforms like Youtube, Google Maps, Twitter and Facebook.
Even with this success, embeddable tools often get overlooked by many companies when planning their APIs. I was recently introduced to BandPage, formerly known as RootMusic, who made a name for themselves by building a successful band promotion application within the Facebook ecosystem, and have crafted a very interesting embeddable strategy. To recover from a recent Facebook platform change, BandPage employed a robust embeddable strategy to quickly decouple their business from Facebook, enabling bands to not only deploy on Facebook, but manage music, photos, tour dates across the web.
I think a healthy embeddable strategy is something every API owner should craft. The right set of embeddable tools can extend your reach beyond the average developer community, while also allowing your data and resources to exist on any site or platform. And in the case of BandPage it can also free you from having your wagon hitched to any single platform like Facebook, and open up much wider opportunities for success.
If you think there is a link I should have listed here feel free to tweet it at me, or submit as a Github issue. Even though I do this full time, I'm still a one person show, and I miss quite a bit, and depend on my network to help me know what is going on.