For years, I have been tracking the trend of the “information explosion” (as evidenced by the title of this blog). The basic premise of this is that the amount and availability of information is growing at an unprecedented rate as we digitize, collect, and create information from more and more sources. The “explosion” represents both an opportunity and a threat to organizations, as they must learn to understand, control, and ultimately make use of it to drive new opportunities. This trend has been well-documented and has driven a large amount of investment by organizations of all sizes.
However, I think a more interesting emerging trend may be the API Explosion. Data, without a way of organizing it and accessing it, does not have much value. However, when information can be made available in context, it suddenly multiplies in value. This is where APIs come in. APIs provide a self-describing way to get to information – offering a programmatic gateway to specific slices of information that abstracts the complexity of where it might actually reside. APIs also provide the advantage of acting as a controlled gatekeeper for the information (presuming they are deployed this way) that can limit who can see what, as well as acting as a quality of service governor that can ensure that the things accessing the data are able to rely on a predictable response.
When you think about it, APIs are largely the drivers of some of the upstart darlings of the high tech world. What are Google, Facebook, and Linkedin but a set of APIs and UIs sitting on a complex foundation of distributed information? In addition, much of the investment that has been attributed to the information explosion – including much of the “Big Data” phenomenon, has actually been focused on providing APIs that sit on top of non-traditional data sources, so that organizations can actually make use of what is valuable inside that data.
To illustrate my point, I created this quick Many Eyes graph of the number of APIs published on ProgrammableWeb per day over the past 6 years (I would have preferred to have published this as a mashup, since ProgrammableWeb has an API, but frustratingly Many Eyes doesn’t). As you can see, the recent growth is extraordinary. This is only one data point, and it is clearly biased toward technology companies rather than traditional businesses, but it is hard to argue against this trend.
So there is an information explosion, but on top of that it is the proliferation of APIs making that information accessible that is driving the change in how organizations operate.