Platform APIs: What’s next?

Earlier this year at a Costa Coffee in Waterloo Station I was speaking to a CEO who was just trying to get his startup idea off the ground, and he was telling me that it was absolutely vital that his service had an API to enable it to act as a platform. What was remarkable about this was that he was not at all technical. In fact, it wouldn’t have been far from the truth to say that his vision of a platform was just about the totality of his technical expertise.

I couldn’t help marvelling at how things have changed. Three years ago, when we launched the Guardian’s content API, it seemed a pretty radical idea. We subsequently architected several other applications with internal RESTful APIs, even though we didn’t always have concrete plans for any other clients; it just seemed sensible. Last November in Bucharest I saw my friend Alan Bradburne talk about architecting with RESTful APIs. What struck me there was that he made it seem the most natural thing in the world — “Why would you do it any other way?” he seemed to be suggesting. And now here was someone with a no technical background using it in the vision for his company.

It also took me back to the early days of the web, when web-browsers-as-clients was still a new idea. I would visit blue chip companies and talk to them about the wisdom of three tier architectures. My audience would be made up of people much more senior than me, but they would still listen closely, nod at my words, and write things down.

Today if you spoke to people about three tier architectures they wouldn’t be remotely interested; there’s no insight there today. Platforms and platform APIs are not quite at that stage yet, but they will be very soon. Even when designing a system for internal use they are valuable, and you don’t have to be an organisation as large as Amazon to appreciate that, although they set a pretty good example.

Meanwhile I think there’s a progression here. There’s another architectural pattern just around the corner that’s next in the sequence. It may have something to do with the unstoppable force of BYOD — bring your own device. Or it may be related to a trend that we can’t yet see. Answers on a postcard — or a whiteboard — please…