This is one of the reasons that Google Analytics is so popular and useful – you can rely on it to tell you useful things about your traffic because it can rely on the browser as a predictable point of control. Including an invisible piece of content on your web page makes the browser fetch data from Google, implicitly sending information that enables Google to report on your usage.For web and cloud APIs, what is the equivalent structure of control?
Currently there is no one point like the browser. This is for great reasons – APIs are all about reusing application or service logic and rendering it to different form factors: pure logic (built into an internal application computation), web UIs (part of a mashup), and most notably, client applications on a wide range of devices (from PCs to mobile phones, set-top boxes, and tablets like the iPad). These devices are in the early part of a boom that will see over 10 billion individual units in use, representing at least hundreds of unique hardware/software designs. The sheer utility of these internet-connected devices predicts that their usage will drive high demand for APIs rather than standard websites. There are initial specifications like BONDI that suggest a standard contract across all of these for “mobile web applications” that include interaction with the features of the local device (such as a camera or GPS) but they are years from broad adoption and don’t attempt to unify all API access down to a common control point.Given that APIs are to application logic what RSS is for content, we know they will be very important; at least as important as the visible web that we use today and possibly more important. This suggests that the other things that are spontaneously generated in value-exchange environments like user/customer management, behavior analysis, content filtering, caching, and security – will show up for APIs as well.
The web API equivalent of the browser’s control structure is an API proxy.This is a control point which unlike a web proxy is fully aware of API content, communications patterns, and able to drive the meta-application controls discussed above. An architecture like Google Analytics which is founded on a browser’s predictable algorithms cannot work in an API setting. The same rule applies to add-ons that modify usage – they can’t do so relying on the local device if they are to be widely adopted. But an API proxy – a server or service on the internet, sitting between the client (regardless of type) – is able to be that point of control. As traffic runs through it, meaningful data can be captured for immediate outcomes (block access, change the message, or respond from a cache) and later used for behavior analysis and business planning. Add-ons that modify usage of the API can be installed at this point (content filtering, adding new information such as advertising, or identity management). All of this can be done while adhering to the contracts of the APIs and supporting the web architecture and rules of HTTP-based applications, and without attempting to solve the logarithmically complex problem of modifications to all the world’s clients.
So API proxies are likely to be necessary for the sustained growth of web and cloud API usage. There are likely to be several nuances that end up differentiating the different implementations and providers of API proxies. The key is to start experimenting with them now in order to build better apps and stay ahead of the competition.