Given that I helped start the Yahoo! Developer Network and once again spend my days (and some nights) working on it, you should not be shocked to know that I think APIs are pretty important.

This all goes back to something I tried to articulate a couple years ago (around the time we were working on making the Search APIs available, IIRC): Ubiquity in the Internet Age. In that post I made two claims about the web that I'd like to make once again:

  1. The web enables infinite distribution of content without any special effort or infrastructure.
  2. The web extends the reach of our apps and services as far as we're willing to let them go.

I went on to say:

The closer to everywhere you can reach, the better off you'll be.
Where is everywhere?
The notion of everywhere has changed too. It's not just about every desktop anymore. It's about every Internet-enabled device: cell phone, desktop, laptop, tablet, palmtop, PDA, Tivo, set-top box, game console, and so on.
Everywhere also includes being on web sites you've never seen and in media that you may not yet understand.

That eventually led into a discussion on APIs and Syndication (RSS/Atom) that began with:

Giving users the ability to access your data and services on their own terms makes ubiquity possible. There are so many devices and platforms that it's really challenging to do a great job of supporting them all. There are so many web sites on which you have no presence today. By opening up your content and APIs, anyone with the right skills and tools can extend your reach.

But until that point, this was largely based on evidence I'd seen elsewhere: Flickr,, and so on. So we'd been doing some of it on the "if you build it, they will come" faith along with a dose of common sense and reason.

But that was all two years ago, so I'd largely forgotten that I wrote most of that (just like most of you, I suspect).

It all came back in a flash last week when someone pointed me at Kevin's Yahoo Answers on Mobile. It's a textbook case (if there is such a thing) of someone being able to put one of our services on their device:

...For me that geek speak which is foreign to me is soccer. I played football my whole life and the rules and lingo in soccer leave me baffled. When folks are talking about soccer, I feel like a shmoe and sort of drift off. I wish I knew more about the game.
There is clearly a problem here looking for a solution. I have my cell phone with me and would love to be able look up some of the soccer terms on the fly, get answers, and get involved in that conversation.
To that end, on the way to Emma’s first game we stopped at Barnes and Noble. I picked up a cup of coffee and an issue of Business 2.0. One of the articles was about Yahoo Answers. Yahoo Answers had 12 million uniques in June (YouTube had 13 million). This is clearly a hot and valuable web property and for a reason. It is a great resource for learning things in a hurry.
I could instantly become a soccer expert with Yahoo Answers on my cell phone.

And he did just that.

Back that "Why APIs?" question... So that Kevin can become a soccer expert at his kindergarten daughter's games.

That's why.

Posted by jzawodn at October 16, 2006 02:52 PM

Reader Comments
# Ray Everett-Church said:

My only problem with APIs is when they make it easier for data thieves to make mischief. I wrote a column this month about exactly that issue.

on October 16, 2006 05:03 PM
# Dan Isaacs said:

Um, Ray, your issue isn't at all with APIs. It's with giving away your passowrds. Your article is pretty clear on that. Don't believe the headlines your editor makes up for you.

And exaclty what kind of data that is readily available for free could one steal? I find your general premises to be silly. Fear mongering is a good business, though. Can't blame you for that.

Z, I know you get this stuff, and I sometime tire of telling you you're right, but you're right. People just want stuff, and they want it when they want it. Opening up your APIs means they are far more likely to satisfy those wants by using Yahoo!.

Now show me the API for making Y! Mail go right to my inbox, and I just might try to program something.

on October 16, 2006 06:02 PM
# Kevin Cawley said:

... not only am in now a soccer expert, I improved my A game around the office. I was in a meeting a couple of week ago and someone mentioned something about "jumping the shark". I had no clue what she was referring to, so I pulled out Mobile Ask spoofing that I was checking my email and in seconds was in on the joke and not feeling like a schmo. BTW, this refers to the downfall of Happy Days after the episode where the Fonz jumps the shark.

Coincidentally, the same quote about this poor shark came up as I was heading out of the office the other day - this time I got the reference. Thanks Yahoo for having the foresight to expose this data and as you so correctly state,“extend the reach of our apps and services as far as we're willing to let them go!”

on October 17, 2006 08:42 AM
# Bryce Glass said:

I've got bad news for you Kevin. 'Jumping the shark' has itself jumped the shark. (A couple years back, as it turns out.) It's all about 'stroking the felt' now.

on October 18, 2006 12:22 PM
# Faye Price said:

Hey - how many mobile Q&A services are out there? I feel like I'm hearing about new ones popping up every day. I most recently caught wind of AskMeNow...anyone tried it out yet?

on October 19, 2006 08:37 AM
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