How Are Open APIs Changing the Online World

All of us use PCs and smartphones to communicate with friends, co-workers, and family members every day. However, have you ever wondered how exactly programs we use daily to communicate with each other? If you want to know the answer to that question, you have to dive into the world of APIs.

What is an API Anyway?

If you ever read anything about programming, you probably came across the phrase “API.” So, what does it mean? The term stands for “Application Programming Interfaces.” In short, it’s a tool that helps developers in writing code that connects with other pieces of software.

APIs range from low-level tools, which allow OSX and Windows apps to use aspects of other operating systems, to high-level ones that power the apps on your mobile device. Basically, it’s a tool that allows computer programs to talk to each other.

So is that it? In essence, it is, however, an API isn’t inherently interesting – how we use an API is really what matters here. In an effort to explain how APIs are influencing and changing the online world as we know it, here are some examples of APIs in use…

How Businesses Use APIs?

Most people assume that the tech industry is so cut-throat that companies never provide any assistance to the competition. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Industry giants like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all allow other companies to implement their services.

Of course, there’s a clear commercial reason why an organization would design and release an API and allow competitors to utilize it. An API not only increases brand awareness, but it also attracts new users that probably wouldn’t know about your service.

An API also lets individual users and organizations alike to manipulate existing services and products to serve their own interests. Successful programmers use high-end tools to document APIs in order to ensure that everyone knows how to implement their tools.

How Browsers Use APIs?

In the last few years, HTML5 has defined what a browsing experience should really look like – it should be interactive, extremely fast, and with little to no plugins. While the support for HTML5 is not as wide-spread as it should be, the programming language still offers a ton of amazing functionalities.

Although some of you aware of this, however, we are going to point it out in case some readers don’t. HTML5 specifications make it easy for programmers to design highly-detailed web games, for sites to store data on your PC without the use of cookies, and for sites to determine your physical location at any time.

But most of you don’t know that all of these individual mechanisms of HTML5 are basically APIs. You see, just like an API, there’s a standard of how these functionalities of the browser function, and how programmers use it.

How the Government Uses APIs?

Lately, governments across the globe have become more open about their operations than ever before. Take the UK government for example. They’ve launched the data.gov.uk – a site where data scientists and journalists can go through tons of datasets.

The US government has also taken a step toward transparency. However, rather than distributing their data in spreadsheets and CVS files, the US government opted for APIs. Back in 2011, the Obama administration issued an order that demanded that services improve their delivery of services.

Not long after that, the administration announced that they are releasing an API that will serve as the hub for numerous IT projects for the government. Simultaneously, the API provides access to privately developed apps.

It was the first project of its kind in the country, however, it was actually a massive success. A vast majority of US agencies – including the NIH, the Army, and the DHS – released open data sets for public use.

The Future of APIs

Even though APIs sound boring at first – trust us – they are anything but boring. After all, they’ve changed the way our government operates, and they’ve given us a wide range of choice when it comes to the way we use the Internet in our everyday lives.

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