Summer is known for vacation and relaxation, as many TV commercials attest. It also can be a time of unrest and revolution, as U.S. and French history attest. Maybe the season explains the timing of some upheaval in the fledgling field of open APIs.
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Recent weeks have seen clamor in the ranks of the OAuth API standardization effort, as well as a high-visibility launch of an alternative to Twitter APIs. In the first case, an OAuth originator took exception at changes proposed for Version 2.0. In the other case, a West Coast start-up took on Twitter, promising a non-ad-supported social media platform based on an open Web API. A sidebar to all this is the earlier craigslist mini-brouhaha surrounding its attempts to close up its data listing URLs that are being repurposed by Web API-wielding third parties.
Over the weekend, the potential Twitter alternative known as App.net garnered considerable attention by enlisting developers at as much as $100 a pop to sign up for its paid mobile app service. The company had well exceeded its $500,000 seed goal as of August 13. On one level it can be seen as an effort to enter the void caused by Twitter’s recent back-tracking on some of its API openness. On another level App.net can be seen as an affront to Twitter’s growing reliance on advertising for revenue.
It was in the wake of Twitter’s efforts to ensure that its APIs maintain a “consistent set of products and tools” that App.net co-creator Dalton Caldwell blogged about what Twitter could have been. (He’d early attacked Facebook.) He saw the Twitter API originally as a real-time protocol, one that became tainted by Twitter’s advertising model. Subsequently, App.net launched its online promotion, which seemed somewhat akin to crowd-funding undertakings such as Kickstarter.
Dalton Caldwell, who began his career at SourceForge, has seen the upside and downside of technology. His present company, Mixed Media Labs has focused increasingly on its App.net developer store, now pitched as a social platform, as backing has run out for its Picpiz picture sharing site, now shut down. In effect, he has ridden the swells of the open API trend, and found a way to get mobile app developers to pay to be part of the App.net effort.
These doings – both Twitter’s and Mixed Media’s – don’t much clarify the trajectory of that recently born technology known as the open, Web or public API.
An era of an open, programmable Web may come about if non-commercial standards can be agreed to. Oauth 2.0 will provide a testing ground for that. But, Caldwell’s App.net does not forgo commerce altogether – his business plan merely pledges to forgo advertising commerce.
It is early for open APIs. Companies that use Web APIs as part of their business will no doubt take a one-step-forward/one-step-backward approach. They will be eyeing the open API effort but continuing to use Twitter APIs where appropriate. What do you think?