Operator APIs - What developers think

Developers are key!

You may think you have the best API or service in the world. If no developer adopts it, you will not be on the market and you will not have end users to capture value from. Value does not necessarily have to be monetary value as I have discussed in my article Leveraging APIs as part of Digital Strategy. Developers are the crucial element in the API value chain. Without them this chain is broken.


In order to successfully work with developers, you need to understand them really well and get your developer experience (DX) right. A lot of work in this space has been done by Pamela Fox.

(Note: I am sorry, in the video I refer to Pamela as Amanda. That’s wrong. Her name is Pamela Fox.)

In general, DX has two underlying principles:

  1. Value: provide something of value
  2. Simplicity: make it easily accessible and useable

Another important aspect is that there is not the typical developer. According to the Evans Data Corporation there were 18.2 million developers worldwide in 2013. That is a lot and developers have very specific and diverse requirement and what means value to one developer may be worthless to another. Hence, as someone who provides APIs or technologies for developers in general you need to have a very clear understanding of the pains and gains of your developer segments.

Coming back to the two DX principles – value and simplicity – and the main topic of the seminar – operator APIs – we conducted a global survey to find out how developers perceive the value of operator APIs and services (find this survey here).

This study showed that developers clearly see a value in operator APIs and services per se. However, there is also a gap in this perception and the actual adoption. 81% of the participants claimed that operator APIs could improve their apps; but only 33% actually adopted these APIs. I believe that this gap can be narrowed by addressing the two DX principles.

In terms of value a lot of the typical operator assets were confirmed as valuable. However, reach is underutilised, which according to Vision Mobile’s latest Developer Economics report (2014/Q1) is the most important criteria for tech adoption. Revenue BTW is after speed and cost of development, performance, and documentation only on the fifth spot as important criteria for adoption a technology. Operators could provide developers with much wider reach by providing cross-operator APIs.

Simplicity, however, is a major area (and concern) for operators to work on based on our study. There is a significant difference about how younger API providers engage with developers compared to how operators do that. For more details have a look at the Stripe case study I wrote earlier. The quote below is quite representative about what we got back from developers regarding qualitative feedback.

I concluded this talk with the following quote by Abraham Lincoln:

With public sentiment, nothing can fail;

without it nothing can succeed.

This idea is perfectly transferrable into developer engagement. Developers are the crucial element that makes the API value chain work. That needs to be embraced. As an API provider (regardless if operator or not), you need to be in the mind of the developers and you need to be experienced with a positive sentiment.

This post was originally published on Manfred’s Mobile Apps Stuff blog and is re-published here with minor modifications. @Manfred writes about API strategy, developer evangelism and personal efficiency and curates topics at the API Magazine.

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