API’s run our internet experience!
This acronym has helped us compare the best prices for flights, has allowed us to embed a map into the store’s website, and effortlessly processed our credit card payments.
But what is an API, and why does it matter to us? Here, we’ll give a basic overview of APIs and how they relate to our daily life.
API stands for Application Programming Interface.
This is a concept in software technology that essentially refers to how multiple applications can interact and obtain data from each other. APIs operate on a unison of inputs and outputs.
Application - Mobile applications or a software program that you use.
Programming - Developers use APIs to write software.
Interface - How you interact with the application.
Let’s use an analogy here, we’ll compare this to ordering a drink at a bar. When you go to a bar, you’re given a menu in which several drinks are listed. Look at this as an API, there’s an existing convention you can follow (menu) to place your order and get a drink.
The menu given to you is like the interface. All the drinks listed on that menu is what the bartender has agreed to serve you and are the items that are available. When you ask for a certain drink on the menu, you get it. But if you ask for something off the menu, such as a vodka instead of a gin, the bartender can’t provide it because it’s not available.
Now let’s say you want the gin home delivered. You call the delivery service and order a gin that appears on the menu. When you order it, someone will tell the bartender your order, the bartender prepares the gin and then another person will deliver it to your house. This is a clear example of an additional service (delivery) built on the API (menu).
To relate this back to the software, an API can help one application retrieve specific data asked from another. If the API doesn’t support a certain type of data, it will not be able to retrieve that (off-menu) data.
Public APIs are given by companies like Slack API management and Shopify API management in the hopes that developers will use them to build it on their platforms. The company shares a set of inputs that you can use to achieve desired outputs. For every input, they agree to give an output that does not differ.
You don’t need to submit the app for approval for a public API. They are usually documented and can be accessed without too much fanfare.
Private APIs are used in-house at companies. If a company has multiple software products, private APIs are used for the software to communicate with each other. The components of API management can change at the company’s discretion, whereas a change to a public API would cause chaos.
All major social media networks have APIs. While you are not allowed to use them to duplicate the company’s core service and sell that as your software, you can build on them to improve the user experience.
Twitter’s API allows you to access certain areas of a public profile. As a basic use of API management, you could write a program where you can search for someone’s username and it’ll return the profile page. Instead of walking up to Twitter’s office every time you have a query, the API management gives access to the program to return the profile information.
If you use a third-party social API management platform, then you’ve experienced the use and limitations of APIs. They allow you to post, comment, and react to posts on behalf of your account. The only advantage of software built on social media APIs is that you are able to see multiple accounts just in one place.
But API also puts a limit on what you can do, and this isn’t always due to an error in the software, but a limit to the functions of the API. For example, you can’t schedule Instagram posts to upload and post on your behalf while you’re busy or sleeping.
Also, when Instagram started allowing partners like third-party API access, it could in turn offer the capability to schedule and publish images from a separate tool.
You have to set up a business profile to do so, but the process is very simple once your account is connected!
Instead of accessing four different applications or services at four separate times, you can use only one software management to access all four at the same time.
The Sprout Social Smart Inbox is an apt example of this. Before, there was a time where you would log into Facebook and Twitter separately, check messages, search terms, and respond when you were tagged in posts.
Now, thanks to the networks’ APIs, you can see it all in one view, thus saving time.
If you use public transit, you are likely to have an app telling you when the next bus is arriving. The app uses the transit’s API to show you which bus is arriving or delayed and when. It saves you a lot of time and effort.
A business’ potential can be limitless when they offer an API. Having an API available with developers who are eager to work on them, can expand their offerings to more people.
A good API example is the Mint software, it can connect with multiple banks and compile it all in one place. A bank’s core offering is storing your money, recording your expenses, and much more. The banks allow Mint to connect to APIs, so you can efficiently manage your money and consequently, continue being a customer at the bank.
To summarize, here are the five takeaways for APIs.
Common uses for API management range in complexity from copying and pasting text to tracking market prices for blockchain and cryptocurrency.
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