Was email The electronic innovation of the late 80's, the wibbly.wobbly.web of the late 90's and Cloud computing of the late 00's, Application Program Interface must be The innovations now - do we actually have a name for this decennia yet, do we call this the 10's, tens or teenies?
Image taken from Narrow Boat Albert (book-reviews)
In the olden days sending products (read data) needed a lot of manual handling when transported from one area to another. Take for instance transport of goods over water.
Loaded into one boat, "sailed" as for as the water way would carry that particular boat, unloaded again to be loaded into another boat taking it over another water way as far as possible, unloaded/loaded again into another until it finally reached it ultimate destination. Cumbersome and taking a long time. Until larger water ways were connected by canals, reducing the amount of handling tremendously. (I'm rather a fan of the old travel ways using narrow boats, call me a romantic, but have you ever seen the breathtaking aqueducts built especially for this?)
(Image again from Narrow Boat Albert blog)
Bringing the idea of connecting canals into the 21st century, API connects especially various Cloud computing programs with each other, reducing the number of times data has to be manually handled. Other - desktop - software programs use API also to extend their usefulness.
I regard Cloud Computing programs those software programs you can access anywhere where you have an internet connection, from blogs, email marketing, CRM to ecommerce sites and even online banking (Software as a Service). Accessible everywhere is great, but none or very few programs take care of all the essentials. Email marketing does not include your bookkeeping, blogs don't process your payments from clients and CRM's don't sell your products online.
Meaning, without the means of a API connection, the details of your contact/clients need to be handled many times over. Connecting programs - letting them talk to each other in bits and bytes - overcomes this cumbersome problem.
Take for instance our own secure webshop. Since mid last year we use Ecwid for this, the widget embedded in our blog (and main website also). Client decides to pay using Paypal.
With one click - place order - details of my client are captured in Ecwid, in Paypal and in Kashflow (our bookkeeping program we also started using mid last year).
If I want I can even transfer (one click again) details of this client from Kashflow into MailChimp and email further marketing messages to them. We don't use MailChimp for our email marketing at the moment, Octane HQ takes care of this (including none email marketing), but on the other hand I do have a MailChimp account and use this for a village project.
So, no more manually entering details in various (online) software programs, all done (almost) automagically through API.
Of course, other online programs use the same principle. Tweet a message and add specific hash-tags and the same message appears in Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Publish a blog-post, and various API's will show an announcement on Twitter, Facebook to name but a few.
Then there are desktop software programs who, by utilising API, can upload data to all kinds of online programs. One I frequently use - this blog-post on Typepad is a fine example of it - is ScreenSteps Desktop. I can even publish the same article in other programs without having to lift a finger (well, I only have to tell ScreenSteps in which programs I want the post to appear).
Bringing it together
At the moment I'm working on a specific guide to show how using various Cloud computing programs, all using API in one way or the other, can help you create an ecommerce project very quickly and efficient. My target group will be small business testing the waters of ecommerce, those who need to simply test a new product (digital or physic product) without disrupting their normal website or which could interfere (marketing wise) with their existing ecommerce presence.
For some of the programs in this guide I'll use free editions of award wining software, so even start-ups don't have to break the bank getting started with ecommerce. The beauty of using free edition first is that you can always upgrade to a more advanced edition (with more features and benefits) without having to start all over again.
Still looking for a proper name for the guide though, "connecting the dots (com)" might work here too ;-)
Do you have a favourite program that uses API? And how does it benefit the running of your business?