Katsushika Hokusai, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa
Following my journey through APIs and the tech industry while working at Stoplight it occurred to me that, while I do understand what an API is, I had no idea what the scope of the API ecosystem was. So I’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular API Directories (or Marketplaces) and an exploration of API Integration Platforms.
APIs are currently experiencing a renaissance as they become more and more integral to any cloud or web based service. This upsurge in use has been accompanied by a massive proliferation of APIs. Currently, ProgrammableWeb, the largest API directory, has 16,590 APIs listed, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. In response to the sheer amount of publicly facing APIs available on the web, the API community has been put under increasing amounts of pressure to come up with an solution for exposing them (aka API Discovery).
The iceberg analogy speaks to the volume of visible, or, public facing APIs available on the web, compared to the potential treasure trove of internal APIs and APIs hidden behind paywalls. ProgrammableWeb estimates put the number of public facing APIs around 16,000 while APIHound puts the number around 50,000.
The issue of API Discovery is not a new one, and luckily we already have some solutions to the problem. In this article, we will look over the most common solution, API Directories, along with a quick look at API Integration Platforms. While these two solutions address different audiences and problems, there are some common threads that permeate through both that could lead to a more comprehensive vision of what the future could look like.
API Directories, also known as API Repositories, API Catalogs, and API Marketplaces, tackle API Discovery head on by scouring the web for APIs and compiling them in one convenient location. These solutions focus on creating a single source of truth for developers to discover APIs and are, for the most part, free.
The granddaddy of all API Directories. ProgrammableWeb has consistently been one of the most visible and accessible of API Directories. With a behemoth library curated by a team of API evangelists, ProgrammableWeb continues to cultivate and collect API relics in an effort to support the ever changing API landscape.
GitHub will always be a good option for finding anything in tech and that includes APIs and curated user generated API Directories. The downside to GitHub is that there is no central guideline or goal which results in a lack of standardization.
“You can’t build everything from scratch, and using APIs makes work a lot more efficient. But each API has a different format and authentication strategy. You have to speak a lot of different languages to use them all.” — Iddo Gino
As of March 13, 2018, RapidAPI claims that they process 400B API calls each month which makes them one of the most used API directories available. RapidAPI differs from the other directories by providing a single standardized gateway that allows access to all the APIs they support.
APIs.guru could be considered the bedrock of API Discovery. An open-source, machine readable API Directory, APIs.guru is a leading source of data for many API Directories and embodies the open-source mentality that has come to symbolize the dev community at large. They also specialize in APIs that use the OpenAPI Specification
API Integration Platforms are an emerging field within the API ecosystem. These SaaS platforms aren’t engineered to function solely as an API Discovery tool but do so as a by-product. They function as a middle man of sorts. Instead of having to manually integrate APIs into your product, all you have to do is integrate with their service, and you gain access to all the APIs they support. Currently, most of the platforms primary focus is on integrating commonly used analytics/big data/financial platforms to centralize and share valuable consumer data.
Zapier differs from the other integration platforms by focusing on non-technical users. The language and the approach will be substantially different. They specialize in connecting apps (Zaps) in creative ways to allow for automation and additional functionality.
API Directories and Integration Platforms tackle the issue of API Discovery in inherently different ways. Directories function as an open repository for API consumers and producers that want to share their APIs to the greater tech community. Their audience will be much more technical than their counterpart and it will be a much cheaper, if not free solution. In the future, I see them filling a similar role to that of GitHub in regards to APIs. API Integration Platforms, on the other hand, will emerge as a larger player in the B2B API ecosystem. By cutting out manual, time-consuming technical integrations, integration platforms will drive much of the API economy. They will provide a simple, non-technical platform that allows anyone to snap on any number of different APIs onto a product like a child with Legos. The major downside of the Integrations Platforms are cost and choice.