Billions of API calls traversing Web, redefining "software"

Billions of API calls traversing Web, redefining "software"

Summary: APIs are quickly becoming the application glue for the Web with billions of calls per day making some companies billions of dollars per year, according to one keynote speaker at the annual Glue Conference.

TOPICS: Browser, Software

Updated May, 25 2012 at 10:59 am

Online services such as Google, Facebook, Netflix and eBay are handling billions of application programming interface (API) calls per day and some companies are accounting for billions of dollars in revenue per year via API links to their services, according to John Musser, founder of ProgrammableWeb.

Musser, speaking Wednesday at the annual Glue Conference in Broomfield, Colo., highlighted ballooning statistics his company has collected and laid out the 10 hottest trends in the open API market, including growth rates, funding, protocols, and business models. The Programmable Web maintains a database of open APIs. (See his presentation here).

"APIs are how we are going to build software in the future," he said. "We are just going to glue it together."

Musser presented his list of the Top 10 API trends, in no particular order:

  • VC funds for your API
  • Growth rates
  • REST
  • JSON
  • API-call billionaires and trillionaires
  • API as a product
  • Hackathons
  • API Business models
  • Monetizing APIs
  • Invisible mashups

APIs are quickly becoming a necessity for online services and for enterprises as users demand application access from anywhere with any device. That demand has fueled API growth.

An API is a set of functions that allow computer programs to talk and share data.

The Programmable Web now has 6,000 open APIs listed in its directory.  That is up from 5,000 just three months ago. In contrast, it took eight years for the directory to count its first 1,000 APIs. Those numbers do not include countless private APIs that are mostly used to support mobile apps.

Nearly 15% of the 359 enterprise APIs listed in the ProgrammableWeb directory were added in the past three months.

The major difference between enterprise and consumer focused APIs is that enterprise APIs typically handle more sensitive data and transactions. In addition, enterprises need to manage and secure access to those APIs, using protocols such as OAuth.

Musser noted the "billionaires club" of API calls with Twitter handling 13 billion per day, up from three billion in 2010. During this month, Netflix is handling 1.4 billion per day and Klout an even one billion. eBay was handling one billion per day for the first three months of 2012.

And bigger numbers are on the horizon. He noted that Amazon Web Services next month will hit one trillion objects in its Simple Storage Service (S3).

Musser noted that Expedia's affiliate network counts $2 billion worth of business a year via APIs.  Musser quoted Expedia executives saying that 90% of what they do is business through APIs.

Developers are demanding programmable access to the most functional parts of applications. And end-users are doing the same, although they don't really know it, as they devour Twitter-based or Facebook-based applications or, closer to the enterprise, apps. More than half of's traffic comes through APIs.

And APIs make those applications device-agnostic - smartphone, tablet, PC, DVR, kiosk, in-car computer, gaming console and other platforms.

Musser said companies are using money to incent users to build on top of their APIs.

"Once you have an API, how do you get people to build on it," he said. He pointed to Twilio and Box as companies giving developers money for building on top of their APIs. that incent developers with free trials or compensation to build on top of their APIs.

He said REST and JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) are the dominant protocols for APIs, saying that 96% of the protocols in social APIs are REST. JSON is used as the data format in 60% of REST APIs.

"JSON is a trend, but most people did not see that one coming," he said. "Nearly one in three APIs this year is JSON only."

He also noted that Hackathons are a popular method for rallying developers behind an API. There were 160 Hackathons in the first quarter of 2012 and last year the top prize taken home from a Hackathon was $100,000. Musser said companies such as Twilio and Stripe (online payments) think of their API as a product for developers and that companies such as SupermarketAPI (grocery industry) use the API as a brand.

In addition, Musser said multiple business models are emerging to go with pay-as-you-go (Amazon Web Services),  and unit-based (Google AdWords).

"The biggest trend may be the indirect model," he said, including one-time sign-up (Jigsaw), content syndication (New York Times), and internal uses such as mobile devices (Netflix).

Finally, Musser said invisible mashups are trending, such as the inclusion of the Twitter API in Apple's iOS operating system.

The Glue Conference runs through Thursday. Follow it on Twitter at #gluecon

See also:

Topics: Browser, Software


John Fontana is a journalist focusing on authentication, identity, privacy and security issues. Currently, he is the Identity Evangelist for strong authentication vendor Yubico, where he also blogs about industry issues and standards work, including the FIDO Alliance.

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  • Don't trust evangelists

    They promote blind enthusiasm based on a leap of faith.

    Sound software decisions should be based on reason and logic.

    What is an "Identity Evangelist" anyway?
    • what is a "software decision" ?

      One either codes or (s)he does not. When you code, you use tools available to you to get where need to be. Am I making a 'software decision' when I use a While loop versus a For Each?
      • This isn't quite what I meant.

        I meant choosing what is the right solution for a particular business problem.

        Which may, or may not, involve software.

        Of course what detailed software decisions you make when programming should also be based on logic rather than blind faith in experts (self-appointed or otherwise).
    • I assume that those who gave this a minus

      do believe that software decisions should be based on blind faith rather than logic?
  • Umm, what?

    "Billions of API calls traversing Web, redefining 'software'"

    Umm, what?

    Nothing has been "redefined." It's just how software works. Be it offline or online, APIs are the bread and butter of software development, and have been for a while.

    Counting API calls is like counting "if...then" statements. Or counting the number of words a blogger writes. Or counting the number of numbers an accountant writes. Or counting the number of bricks a bricklayer lays.

    It's what we do. I'm not sure counting them is really newsworthy.
  • Identity Evangelist? Journalist? C)None of the above?

    How is a 'journalist' an 'identity evangelist'? Those two terms would seem rather contradictory to me. Because a journalist is one who engages in journalism, the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media as defined by Merriam-Webster. However an 'identity evangelist' would appear to be a public-relations-rebranded term for PUBLIC RELATIONS, someone engaged in the business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution- again from

    These two things USED to be rather sharply at odds with each other in the public mind; but I guess our standards are a lot lower than they used to be, just like how we now call anyone writing a blog a 'journalist'.
    beau parisi
  • utterly unprofessional

    I totally agree with CobraA1. This article should not have seen a light of day for the author has no idea what he is talking about.
    • Well . . .

      Well, I wouldn't say it quite as strongly as that. But it does seem to be the case that the author is a bit out of touch.

      APIs are basically collections of functions, objects, data structures, etc that are public and intended to be used for other software. It's a technique for code reuse and sharing that all developers should be familiar with.

      We've been using APIs for a very, very long time. The STL for C++ is an API, and that's been around since the '90s. I simply don't understand why they are being treated as something new, when the truth is they've been used for a long time. You can barely write a program at all these days without using an API. It's how your program communicates with the OS and other applications.

      Sure, internet apps are beginning to expose more APIs to the public, but that's to be expected as they become more like regular apps and less like static web pages, and are expected to communicate more with other apps.
  • compare

    I try to compare it with a non ICT situation.
    Suppose, people can them self pick up some goods at a big plant with it's own traffic network and traffic rules. Suppose this is now very successful. Would it then sound correct to say that those local traffic rules are a big success, transforming the traffic system and potential becoming big business.
    I think that is what here is said.
  • The problem is

    that no one really has a well defined logically sound theoretical definition of how distributed computing should work (at least I don't know of one, please correct me if I am wrong and point me in the direction of the appropriate literature).

    This is a show stopper for cloud computing.
  • Confused.

    So, allowing others to 'attach' to your code by exposing inroads to call internal functionality via API's is a bad thing? This article is odd, as is it's premise. I've reread it a few times and am left feeling like the author was Schroedinger (umlaut understood) attempting an unknown bag of possible cat, and then using sheer faith to position his/her argument. Not many screws are tightened using a hammer, which is why each problem requires a discrete solution.
    • Agreed

      An exchange data format does not enable interchange.

      Everyone has to have the same understanding of the meaning of the metadata.

      Only human beings can do this. So using a service, API or even something modern like a database view (where you don't have all this tedious, low level procedural programming going on) requires specification of how your attributes map to the attributes in the service.

      However the hype level about cloud, SOA, APIs has probably reached such a fevered pitch that we can be fairly confident that the house of cards will be collapse in the near future, showing that many of the so-called evangelists weren't playing with a full deck.

      A few years back XML was going to solve all our problems, now JSON is. Next year something else will by trendy, but the problems will, for obvious reasons, remain unsolved.

      However I will keep reading this stuff as the last thing I want to happen is that I am caught using an unfashionable exchange format - the shame of it!
  • Agreed

    This post is very informative and at the same time could help future businesses. We at Boss Digital Asia, can help you and your company get to the top of your game and become more visible in the online world.

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