API, or application program interface, is a source code base that is released by the developers of an app that allow communication between the platform and third party applications. Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, to name a few, each have their own APIs that developers can utilize so their apps can communicate with these platforms. The result of this technology is a collaborative atmosphere where information is shared and sometimes even controlled centrally.
Up until recently, I haven’t been exposed a great deal with using APIs. The only APIs I have interacted with are Google Maps and the occasional Facebook commenting system on other websites. Since I’ve become a little more in the know as to what APIs are, and how they can empower an app/service, I’ve become more fond of apps/services that use them.
Path, a journal-like, mobile-only software, is an excellent example as to how developers and designers alike are making use of APIs. Path, which is very similar to the popular social media services pointed out above, is actually a hub of sorts. It allows for content published in the app to be pushed to Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Facebook. Path is an interesting step in mobile software. For starters, it is mobile-only, meaning users can only post content from their mobile device. You can still “like” and comment on content in the web version, but only by clicking through a permalink when an update is posted. This facet of the software was a little jarring at first, but what Path has created is an on-the-go social media platform that makes use of these popular services. For me, it made me more willing to trust and engage with the app. Not to mention it’s incredibly well designed.
I’m not necessarily here to plug Path, but I wanted to take a minute and share a service that I enjoy using. Path was an acquired taste, and I think it’s important to note that partnerships with the big players might even help start-ups like Path gain momentum. No one wants to post their content to a service that will die in a few months. With the conceived failure of Google+, I have been left a little exasperated when it comes to the birth of new social media platforms. The fresh approach to Path is they aren’t necessarily introducing something new, rather, they are building on the services we use today. In Path, I am able to check in on Foursquare, push to Twitter, and post pictures and status updates to Facebook. All the while it lives in my Path timeline.
APIs are something a developer or designer (and even client) should consider when starting a project. It is true that APIs are not always viable, but in situations where they are, it creates a more comfortable user experience. In the case of Path, I was at ease using this program as it used the APIs of other services that I have come to know and trust. All of these are important components that factor into the success of an app or service.