Application programming interfaces provide a means for e-commerce players to extend their brand—but they're not without risk.
To maximize sales, Web merchants need to create an Internet footprint that goes beyond the home page and extends to all parts of the Web where their customers congregate.
The best way to get there, said experts at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York, is through application programming interfaces, or APIs.
"Hoarding treasure is not valuable," said Oren Michels, CEO of Mashery, a startup that helps companies extract the most value from their APIs and build scalable infrastructure around them.
APIs provide hooks so third-parties can leverage tools and content from partners—typically large e-commerce or media sites like Netflix, Best Buy, or The New York Times. Billboard.com, for instance, publishes an API that allows Facebook users to compile their own lists of top tunes from the music publisher's massive database of Top 100 lists.
"When you open your services, you create a new means of distribution," said Michels.
Still, using APIs to build revenue or brand awareness carries some risks. Content may be misused, improperly distributed to others, or republished in violation of terms of licensing or copyright agreements. Companies that use APIs therefore need to aggressively employ best practices and other, industry standard security measures to minimize the downside.
"APIs need strong governance models," said Drew Bartkiewicz, VP for technology and new media at insurer The Hartford, "in case something goes viral."
One way to minimize exposure is to create "sandboxes"—APIs that give users access to trial data but not real business content. That lets the provider ensure that the intended use for the information is legitimate before opening the door to actual data.
Still, said Michels, "you can be too cautious to the point where you're not giving your partner anything of value."
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