If you’re not a developer or some other breed of nerd, you may be asking “What the heck is an API and why does everyone keep talking about them?” An API is defined as an ‘Application Programming Interface’. That definition doesn’t help much for for the non-technical, so in practical terms it is simply a documented way for one application to talk to another application.
Why are we talking about APIs? Because they are cool! Yes, APIs are cool. Let me explain.
API vs. Ford Model T
For the unfamiliar, you may more easily identify with a user interface and understand the importance. When you get into your car, unless you’re one of the few remaining Ford Model T owners, you don’t have to cross wires and yank on pulleys to operate your vehicle. These manual steps are not required because the designer built a user interface for you to operate your vehicle. The interface includes the steering wheel, gas and brake pedals and even some knobs to turn up and down the heat to keep you comfortable. The better this user interface is designed, the easier and more enjoyable it is to operate your vehicle.
If you understand why a user interface is important in your car, you are close to understanding why it is so important to have a great API for your software. You want to make it easy and enjoyable for another application or programmer to use or extend your software.
We used to think of software applications as stand alone, they didn’t need the internet, external data sources or any knowledge of other applications installed on your computer. This is no longer the case and building an API that allows for this type of integration has become expected.
It should now be clear why we would choose to design our community platform, Gather, by building the API first. In the most simplest terms it is because we want to make it very easy for other applications to use it!
Let me give you a universal example of a great API to convince you of the importance of an API. YouTube videos are everywhere on the internet and we have all seen websites that embed YouTube videos like this:
This is possible because Google built a great API that makes it easy to share these cute kittens with you. Google builds these APIs because they want us to use their software.
I hope you are convinced that APIs are awesome because we are building a great one for Gather that is easy to use and well documented. We’re doing all of this because we want you to use our software.