What is an API and why is it a very big deal?

What is an API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface, which unless you pay close attention to the tech universe, probably means nothing to you. Well, they’re a big deal around the technology world and have been for a while now. For example, the reason Twitter and Facebook are such valuable companies has a lot to do with their APIs.

We’ve recently launched our own API, the Spring API. Some of the press we’ve received has prompted a questions from the curious and the confused. So let’s talk about some API basics.

You might think that API is just another woeful acronym that already haunts our universe. Terms like IDX and VOW were politically-charged concepts with vague implications way back when, but this time things are different. APIs are not born of an industry initiative or policy.

They permeate all modern technology where large amounts of data is involved and will fast become the biggest and greatest advance in real estate technology since the cell phone. And that’s very good news for everyone.

OK so, what is an API? Instead of copying and pasting the Wikipedia page (which was very tempting) I will use a metaphor.

Imagine you are the owner of a large quantity of a very valuable resource. Like say, a reservoir full of millions of gallons of beautifully clean, fresh water. Now let’s assume that others want access to your water – yours is the best water around.

reservoir

Some of these people need access to your water to help you do business; they’re your vendors, business partners or your own employees. You provide access to your water freely or maybe charge a nominal fee. But others want your water to power their own businesses, so you have to maintain a tall fence to prevent just anyone from getting your water.

Right now, access is sketchy. You know your partners have access to your water but not everyone comes through the same gate and some may take more than you think they should. You’re also certain some people are stealing water but you can’t be sure.

Then one day, you install an API to control your water flow. It’s an enormous faucet on top of your reservoir. Your tall fence remains in place, but the multiple gates for access are suddenly obsolete. Anyone that wants water now must possess a key to this faucet – which only you, the owner of the water, can provide. Even with a key, those wanting water must come in a single common entrance and their every movement is closely monitored. The faucet is able to control water drop-by-drop, so some key-holders get all the water, some get just a small sip of water. The faucet is customizable for each key-holder.

The authorized users of your water rejoice – finally enjoying a standardized, regulated path. The unauthorized users are extremely disappointed. Security is tighter than ever.

Why is an API a big deal?

Yes, a simpler and more direct means of access for those you trust and a higher level of security to those you don’t are big positives of the API environment, but there’s more. APIs open up a world of collaboration to outside development.

Going back to our reservoir example, suppose that one of your trusted users of water was in the business of taking water and making it even better. They make flavored water! That user could access your water, work their magic, then add their new tasty beverage back to the reservoir. Now people using your water could choose to drink the standard water or the newly added flavored option. How about coffee next? soda? BEER?!

Now remember, you’re still in the business of providing water, but now you can allow the most creative and talented people in the world to concoct new and powerful ancillary products that your water users will really like, all facilitated by the API. Again, this is all about access, security and (most exciting of all) collaboration.

This is all very new in real estate and we’re proud to be on the front lines of this technology. We’re even helping publicize API use and helping to lead others into this new arena. I hope this little example has shined a little more light on APIs for you. It can be a confusing topic but It’s important that you know at least the terminology and some basics behind it.

More questions? Let me know.

bfowler@24c.d14.mwp.accessdomain.com

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