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5 Predictions for APIs in 2011

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In 2010, the rapid growth of the application- and mobile-driven Internet brought APIs to the spotlight, both in the web and the enterprise. Fueled by new device platforms and cloud computing, 2010 saw a two-fold increase in new APIs per month over the previous year. ProgrammableWeb’s API directory now includes more than 2,600 APIs.

At Apigee, which provides enterprise API management technology and free developer tools, we’ve seen the API market not only grow, but diversify, in 2010. APIs have given developers access to important data sets from government data to geolocation, and powerful services from semantic analysis to 3-D. As we head into 2011, here are five predictions for what’s next in APIs:

1. APIs Go Real-time, Big-time

“Real-time” was hot in 2010 as innovations in the API space brought the real-time web closer to reality. The PubSubHubBub protocol, which allows services to “push” notifications rather than forcing clients to poll for events, was implemented by the YouTube API team. Additionally, the high-profile launch of Twitter’s streaming API showcased market desire for APIs that allow real-time access to data.

The real-time web is currently led by innovative platforms like Notifo, a mobile notifications API that pushes notifications from many services to phones. In 2011, we can expect to see APIs take front and center in pushing real-time from the bleeding edge into the everyday.

2. Developers Will Adopt HTML5

This year, HTML5 was a new development darling. HTML5 makes it possible to create a better user experience — like the ones we expect from apps — in the browser. It also means developers don’t have to write new code to reach multiple platforms. With modest requirements for loosely connected devices in a time when reaching many devices is a strategic necessity, HTML5 combines the power of APIs with the ubiquity of browser access to provide a modern app experience that easily crosses platforms.

OpenAppMkt, an HTML5 app store, is an early indicator of HTML5 growth. We can also expect to see HTML5 support added on low-price-point, consumer electronics.

3. JSON Rises, XML Wanes

One of the biggest emerging stories in the API market is the ongoing debate of JSON vs XML support. JSON and XML are the two primary ways APIs exchange data. While many APIs have historically supported both, 2010 marked a turning point as both Twitter’s streaming API (sub req’d) and the Foursquare API ended XML support.

Why JSON? JSON is easier to use in JavaScript, an increasingly popular language for app developers. It is also lighter, requiring less processing, and is more readable by humans. As a result, developers often find it easier to use.

In 2011, we can expect to see more API providers switch to JSON only. There are still benefits to XML, which means it won’t go extinct anytime soon, but for today’s app developer, the tides are turning toward JSON. Savvy API providers will be giving developers what they want – not just for the holidays, but for the whole year.

4. More Companies to Redo their APIs — The Right Way

2010 saw several high-profile efforts by large companies – both consumer and enterprise – to offer more performant, usable APIs that conform to the REST principles that developers love. Salesforce.com launched a new REST API and made it a focal point of its Dreamforce conference. Foursquare also launched a new version of its API focused on speed, consistency and usability.

As developer adoption becomes a competitive necessity, more and more companies must re-focus on offering APIs designed for adoption: simpler, RESTful APIs that are easier to learn and implement. This will be especially significant in the enterprise as it adapts to the new standards of “web 2.0” development. Finally, as more and more API-centric companies (e.g., SimpleGeo and Twilio) prove that APIs are a product in themselves, API design that lowers the barrier to entry becomes tablestakes.

5. API Frameworks Flourish

Although well-designed APIs make it easier to create apps, there’s still a market need for better ways to build APIs. 2010 marked several notable language-specific API frameworks that aim to help developers create usable APIs, including Grape for Ruby and FRAPI for PHP.

In 2011, we’ll see this grow with dedicated API frameworks for node.js, Python, Java, .NET and more. These frameworks will be especially significant in language communities like Ruby that have seen a boom of adoption in the age of cloud services. The $212 million acquisition of Heroku by Salesforce.com reinforces that making life easier for these developers is key, and finding better ways for developers to build APIs, is a ripe opportunity for 2011.

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