Platform First! This has become the battle cry of the countless companies that seek to own a piece of that mystical place we call the cloud.  It is like the great Gold Rush all over again as everyone scrambles to make their APIs more open, more capable and easier to implement.  With thousands of competitors offering every API you can think of, you can struggle to stand out and attract those elusive developers that will create the Next Big Thing with a mashup that includes your API.  So how do you differentiate yourself when one API seems just as good as another?  Documentation and Developer Onboarding Experience are the keys to success.

Clear, concise documentation is a great start to differentiating your API.  I highly recommend turning your documentation website into a sandbox environment. Using a framework such as Swagger, you can create clean documentation that allows potential developers to make actual calls right from the website.  They can see actual responses and this improves their understanding of the API and, of course, with understanding comes increased adoption.

Swagger

Developer Experience is another key to API adoption. Making your developers feel like they’re taken care of and making their onboarding experience as quick and easy as possible will significantly contribute to your success.  Here are a few tips:

  • Make authentication easy to understand and quick to achieve – authentication is one of the biggest hurdles to success.  Once they achieve authentication many of the rest of the barriers fall away since this is often the most difficult piece of the API puzzle.
  • Provide Traffic Statistics to your developers – Developers love analytics, they love to be able to measure success.  Don’t be surprised if your developers log in daily just to check their growing traffic statistics. Data is like a drug to developers and the more you can provide, the happier they’ll be.
  • Build a Community – Make the developers feel like they are a part of something. Empower your knowledgeable users to teach the new guys, and not only will you increase your API adoption, you’ll make your developers feel needed and important.

If you implement these ideas, I guarantee your API will see increased usage and more interesting applications. Always remember, your API is a product and your developers are your customers.  Treat both with the respect they deserve and you will achieve the success you desire.