Politics of API

The Politics of APIs

Politics is all about power.   Whether in Washington DC, Brussels, or Beijing, individuals jockey for advantage using the political process.  The politics of APIs centers on ‘knowledge being power’ and ‘data content being power’.  Individuals and corporations gain a powerful advantage in the API economy by enforcing content ownership, access privileges, and distribution rights to their advantage.

The Politics of API session panelists, Andy Thurai (@AndyThurai) Program Director at IBM, Kin Lane (@kinlane) API Evangelist at API Evangelist, Mehdi Medjaoui (@medjawii) Founder at oAuth.io, Pratap Ranade (@PratapRanade) Co-Founder and CEO at Kimonolabs, at the API Strategy and Practice Conference described the cultural, legal, and social politics surrounding API publication and consumption.  The intriguing discussion focused on access and distribution privileges (rather than techie API message representation and tooling).   As Kin Lane states:

[API availability] is more about the business and politics of APIs, and less about the technology

Session panelists described how API consumers and API providers operate in a murky legal and social environment.  Legislation and ethics around private versus public broadcast, fair use versus bad faith use, and machine consumption versus human consumption have not been well resolved.  Draconian Terms of Service (ToS), public API shutdowns, and litigation explicitly surface insider power politics.


Tension is building across content owners providing data, data aggregators building API feeds, and data consumers acting on analytics.  Participants tussle in an environment where access connections outweigh access controls, where chain of custody becomes diluted, and where usage patterns flaunt antiquated legal frameworks.


Pratap Ranade, KimonoLabs co-founder, has based his company’s business model on open data.  KimonoLabs’ technology makes website content available as an API. Pratap Ranade sees valuable informational wealth locked within websites, and he proposed a fair harbor exclusion clause for any participant who ‘adds value to the data.’


Andre Thurai championed the distinction between private data and public data. If data falls within the public domain, owners have little basis to restrict distribution.  The analogies harken back to legal definitions of ‘confidential information’ and public versus private venues.  Individuals and corporations must carefully guard information, and not disseminate private or confidential information across public channels (i.e. Twitter, Facebook).  Andy has written a few blog posts about whether public apis are going away (Part 1 and Part 2).


Kin Lane and Mehdi Medjaoui are API champions who advocate fair use and an expanding, participatory API economy.  Restrictive API Terms of Service (TOS) and private APIs minimize participation, but may maximize monetization.  Both individuals and corporations must carefully balance business models, the network effect, and value symmetry.  Mehdi often talks about API trust, and how open APIs require  a service provider who promotes access, transparency, freedom, reusability, and neutrality.  Kin has published an excellent post outlining how APIs provide power through access.

Also, Kin has  posted a politics of API roadmap that maps branding, terms of service, privacy, service level agreement, data license, code license, and deprecation policy dimensions.

Whether APIs are open or closed, public or private, the API economy relies on a community of consumers who learn, adopt, and gain value from each API.  Kin sums up how to succeed in the API game by creating a culture (and business model) based on “transparency, outreach, and providing meaningful resources.”


We will see how far individuals, groups, companies, and governments will transcend political posturing, promote API consumption, and share API power.