3rd Party APIs - Can’t Live With or Without Them
There has been renewed discussions today on the use of 3rd party API after Facebook announced that it was going to shut down the Face.com face-recognition API. The Next Web featured an article covering the news here and Hacker News and Twitter are hot with developer reactions. Back in February, we had to deal with a very similar situation at Picdish when SimpleGeo announced that its spatial database service was being shut down, following an acquisition by Urban Airship. I need to mention that spatial database is core to Picdish’s ability to capture unified and real-time experiences based on location. Our own experience (and initial panic!) led us to put a lot of thought into the use of 3rd party APIs and I wanted to share some of the conclusions.
If there is demand, there will always be a solution: As it turns out, we were not the only ones who needed a spatial database like the one provided by SimpleGeo and Parse jumped on the opportunity and delivered a very effective solution and a smooth transition. I was just following on Hacker News that an alternative to Face.com is already being built by Stephen Balaban.
Be innovative in your own technology, not how you use 3rd party services: There are so many areas to get creative in when developing your core technology. You should absolutely own the innovation in terms of knowledge and implementation. But when it comes to the use of 3rd party services, you want to use it in the most generic way it was designed for. This will ensure that when things go wrong, you can more easily switch to an alternative and as mentioned above, you are not going to be alone.
Risks are there whether API is free or not: Several people are of the opinion that something free cannot last long. I disagree because some of the best tools and solutions I use and have done so for a long period of time are in fact free. And SimpleGeo is a good example that shows that your risks are not mitigated because the vendor has a defined business model because acquisitions and change of focus can happen to anyone.
Benefit outweighs the risks: There will always be a risk in having dependencies on external services. But, this is what specialization is all about and it is here to stay. If the risks are understood and managed, the benefits are tremendous. 3rd party services allow us not just to launch to market faster but more importantly, focus on the innovation and unique value that we offer to our customers.
[Photo Credit: Geek and Poke]
Should Foursquare Restrict API Like Twitter?
There has a been lot of discussions lately (Dalton Caldwell: What Twitter could have been and Andre Torrez: Twitter Hindsight) on Twitter’s recent moves to restrict it’s API. I also just read a post by Semil Shah Mapping out Foursquare’s Final Check-in where he points out “Foursquare has been partly disrupted by applications that grab location passively like (Instagram)” and it got me thinking about the impact its API is having on its monetization strategy.
Let me start by saying that we use Foursquare API in our app Picdish and like thousands of developers, we are very grateful for its amazing service. I am sure users of these apps contributed to the significant growth of Foursquare check-ins and the stats are great for Foursquare to communicate to venues and to create a high valuation for its own business. Slowly but surely, greater portion of the users will use the “other” apps because of the value added service such as sharing photos, capturing experiences, finding friends and not use the actual Foursquare app where they have a chance of monetizing their service. Foursquare will become a Google Maps like solution that no one would want to pay for.
I am of the opinion those components of the API, whether its Foursquare or Twitter, that ensure the service can be monetized on its own platform should always be closed. I do believe that these services would have been better off to start that way rather than change course so late in the game. Foursquare may still have a chance by building a monetization scheme on its API like Urban Airship because it offers a clear value to app developers.
Trust is What Powers America
Trust is a core part of the US system and way of life and we have come to expect and depend on it everywhere. We rest easy knowing that our public safety will be enforced and the mail will be delivered on time. We feel comfortable relying on our friends to respect our online privacy and neighbors to look out for us. And this willingness to trust has had a significant effect on US commerce and innovation.
One of the reasons E-commerce solutions such as Amazon and eBay flourished first in US, and continues to be more successful here than anywhere else, is because of people’s trust that after they pay online for an item it will simply show up at their doorstep as promised. New startups such as Airbnb and Getaround are built on the whole premise that strangers can generally be trusted with high value items such as one’s home or car.
There are several financial frameworks that are built on this principle and notably venture capital is one of them. Investors in the US readily provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to begin with to startups based on the trust that the entrepreneur will put in an amazing amount of talent and effort to build something almost impossible. The level of innovation that has been fueled as a result is immense.
In the workplace, employees are now given more freedom to work flexible hours and from home. It is expected that the employee will always work in the best interest of the employer. The manager who looks over people’s shoulder is frowned upon and even made fun of in movies like Office Space.
The trust in institutions arose from our readiness to trust in people. Majority of the schools have an Honor Code and many will even let you take an exam anywhere and anytime as long as you hold yourself to the prescribed guidelines. It teaches us to be trustworthy and to trust others based on the fundamental value that the only success that matters long-term is the one that is built on trust.
Startup Weekend: A Milestone for Santa Barbara Entrepreneurial Community
What an amazing 54 hours! Passionate entrepreneurs, innovative ideas and fearless conviction together created an electrifying energy like that is usually felt in the heart of Silicon Valley. And a highly talented pool of local developers, designers and strategists coming together meant the result was going to be nothing short of extraordinary.
This past weekend Jun 1-3, the Santa Barbara entrepreneurial community hosted the first Startup Weekend. Startup Weekends take place around the world and are intense 54 hour events in which teams form to build products and launch viable startups over the course of a weekend. This event kicked-off on Friday evening with great introduction by Kyle Ashby and John Greathouse. It was followed by an open pitch session where participants presented over hundred ideas out of which 25 teams came together. I had wanted to simply follow the action and live blog the event as it unfolds. Instead, I was completely drawn in and decided to team up with budding entrepreneurs Ethan Kravitz, Mike Tucker and Dave Bellotti and join the challenge. Everything from that point on was a roller coaster ride.
The chairs were cleared out and the Synergy technology center was turned into a war room. You could hear developers and designers defining the next innovative product and business leaders on the phone with potential customers successfully selling a vision that was formed less than 24 hours ago. It was not just the startup teams that were at work. The organizers, specially Kyle Ashby and Julian Bryant, were phenomenal at making available all the resources we would need from web domains to delicious food. Throughout Saturday and Sunday, experienced entrepreneurs and executives including Michael Panesis, Mark Evans, Jim Semick, Lex Sisney, and Saman Mirzaian were fully engaged with all of us asking insightful questions and providing invaluable guidance in both business and technology areas. It really was a sight not to be missed as everyone came together to help the startup teams succeed.
On Sunday evening when the teams stood on stage to finally present their ventures I could not believe what I was seeing. What were merely ideas on Friday had turned into fully functioning products with clearly defined business models and potential customers lined up ready to test and even pay. The judges which included inspiring leaders such as Seth Epstein, Dave Compton, Patty DeDominic, Jeffrey Peterson, and Diane Pereira were visibly impressed. I could barely hold my excitement when my team TextConnect was judged one of the Winners for Best Market Validation. And when I looked around, I immediately knew that it was just the beginning of a startup journey for so many of the teams there. I couldn’t help but think what an amazing feat it was for the entire Santa Barbara entrepreneurial community. It was also the beginning of a collective journey to prove to the world that more great companies are going to be built here.