The growth in the number of APIs is one of those exponential curves often associated with digital. The Programmable Web Directory now lists over 4,000, a milestone it recorded only 6 months after it logged its 3000th, which in turn was only 9 months after it passed its 2000th recorded API. Growth has been driven by social of-course (there are over 500 Social APIs), and a large proportion of the total number of APIs are naturally created by digitally native organisations (Facebook has 8 APIs, Amazon has 21, Google has 91) and digital start-ups whose API often exists from as early a stage as possible from their inception.
There is however, another interesting trend in APIs which is the increasing number of organisations whose heritage is not digital, but who are nonetheless recognising the value in opening up their data. That includes museums, local councils, libraries, retailers, sports goods manufacturers, regional government, national government, credit card companies, the Oxford English Dictionary, Nasa, MTV, Billboard, the Met Office. Enlightened news organisations are responding to digital disruption with open data: the FT has an API, the New York Times has 13; USA Today has 8. And of-course The Guardian have pioneered with their amazing Open Platform. The programmable web directory have speculated that key areas of potential growth include video and TV, retail, and travel.
This rapid growth in open data reflects a growing recognition from all types organisations of the value in becoming a platform. Companies like Mashery make it easy for any type of company to develop their own interface, and many have used them to do just that. There is unquestionable value in open data in an age where entrepreneurs are everywhere and when the requirement for any organisation is not just for innovation, but continuous innovation (and for every company regardless of size to act more like a start-up). Opening up your data drammatically increases the potential resource an organisation can have applied to generating new ideas and new value from the raw material of its data, meaning improved pace, momentum, competitive advantage. But APIs also play a big part in building relationships with essential talent for the future - developers.
Agencies are not as naturally data rich as governmental, telecoms, retail and other similar direct-to-consumer organisations but as the big ad networks begin to build big data capabilities, how long will that last? Growing numbers of clients are already recognising the advantage of allowing anonymised, aggregated data collected by their agencies to be combined for mutual benefit. With the relentless digitisation of not just communications but products and services, the need for agencies to innovate alongside their clients is evident. As agency output moves more from messaging to experiences, the opportunities for creating new value out of new data unfold. Data held by agencies is seen as proprietary property from which to leverage value and to be protected at all costs, but with the example of a growing number of their clients recognising the benefit of opening up at least part of their data pool, might there be reason enough for change?
There's plenty of reasons why it might not happen, but equally there's plenty of reasons why it might. So my question is will we ever see an agency with an API? Or maybe that question should be when? And what might it look like?