HOW TO: Get Devs to Use Your Company’s API

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Once you’ve decided to build and distribute an API, how do you persuade developers to use it?

Our panel of API experts has returned to reveal tips and best practices for promoting your API among third-party developers, and they’ve got some great ideas for helping you achieve critical mass.

Guillaume Balas is an executive at 3scale, which offers full-featured API management and monetization tools. He says, “There is no secret sauce that guarantees API success. However, there are some must-have best practices to follow … But even having these best practices in place, there are still many other dimensions to consider.”

For example, Balas asks, what kind of recognition does your brand already have? What kind of buzz will you get from an API launch? How much are you willing to invest in promoting your API and supporting its users? How fast will you act on feedback from your API users? The answers to questions like these will determine the size of your API’s userbase.

Make It Worth Their While

Oren Michels is Mashery‘s CEO — his company does API management and strategy for more than 100 brands and 25,000 applications. He reminds those with APIs to remember that the API itself necessitates a symbiotic relationship. To get devs onboard, he says you must offer developers something meaningful — usually that’s fame or fortune.

“What is in it for a developer to work with you? Does it provide direct economic benefit (always nice) or indirect benefit (often nicer), such as making an app they have built better and therefore more likely to make them money? Celebrate successful developers as the heroes they are. Remember that if it’s all about you, they have no reason to build things for you,” Michels says.

He also notes that making terms and conditions reasonable and allowing devs to actually make money from your API is a given. A good rule of thumb: Would you sign your own T&Cs if you were a dev? If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board.

Make It Really Easy

Shanley Kane works on the product team at Apigee, a company that offers a range of API tools for developers and software companies. She says the key to mass adoption of your API is making it as simple to use as possible.

“Developers use APIs that are accessible, follow REST design principles and lower the barrier to entry,” she says. “Simplicity is a differentiator, and complexity kills adoption. Use a simple design, version intelligently, have good documentation and be responsive in support forums.”

Michels is in agreement on that score. “You have to make it easy, ” he says, “with lots of communication and documentation. Code samples. Active forums where questions are answered quickly and accurately. You want to be the path of least resistance to solving their problem when and how they want to solve it.”

Get Into the Community

Kane also notes it’s important to be part of the community of developers you’re trying to build. “Promote the awesome apps devs build,” she says. “Go to hackathons or hold your own. Tell developer press about what you’re working on. Have contests. Stay in touch on developer forums and online communities. If no one knows about your API and the great things they could do with it, no one will use it.”

Dimitri Sirota is an executive for Layer 7 Technologies, which offers its own suite of API management tools for the enterprise. Accordingly, he comes to the table with a different perspective from that of the typical web startup developer.

For enterprise (and other) APIs, Sirota recommends a few tricks for jump-starting API usage. If you have the resources, you could hold contests to find and reward the best apps built on your API or organize dev camps, for example.

But Sirota also points out the basics: You’ve got to “make the tools readily available, promote novel applications built on the APIs, advertise APIs … and help developers make money from APIs” as part of your community-building plan.

Do you have other tips for getting devs to use your API? Let us know in the comments.

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