Brands in the age of the API.

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

API’s are everywhere these days, and we should be rejoicing. APIs make the internet even more awesome. They are a set of rules that allow one application to interface with another.  They let applications mix and mingle and do things they couldn’t have done alone.

Flippity, for instance, is an API mashup of Ebay and Google Maps that gives Ebay more of a local Craigslist feel. Spell with Flickr generates custom messages using Flickr images.  Wheel of Lunch uses the Yahoo Local Search API to make a game of picking a place to eat.

Image created using Spell With Flickr.

We expect the Googles and Twitters of the world to have and share APIs. But what about more traditional brands? The banks, retailers and manufacturers of the world?

In some ways the whole API concept runs contrary to brand management. Brands live in a world of careful and controlled exposure. Things are either “on brand” or “off brand.”

APIs on the other hand fuel the open source economy.  An API is an invitation to play, to take something and run with it.

What would happen if a bank released an API? Would some intrepid developer use it to create a better financial management tool? Could a cable company’s API yield a better program guide?

Would a brand as tightly controlled as Coke or Nike ever be comfortable with open source brand and product development?

There are some brands that are giving it a shot. Sears is an example. With their API you can imbed their entire catalog, as well as commerce functionality, into your website or app. And MasterCard‘s API gives developers the opportunity to invent new payment applications.

API’s allow for R&D and innovation to come often and from anywhere. And as consumers grow ever more intolerant, and vocal, of inferior products and services, brands might find themselves having no choice but to adopt more of an API mindset.

What do you think?


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