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]