You may have heard the term API being bandied about when discussing with your developer the integration of your website with services like Facebook or Twitter.
An API is an Application Programming Interface and in this blog I'm going to take you through the basics of how they work.
Believe it or not, you know what an API is!
And you most likely interact with many APIs on a daily basis. In general terms, it's a software to software interface that allows for the sharing of content and data. The main benefit of an API is that it allows the sharing of information between programs in a structured and documented way.
APIs make the sharing of information from your website to third party software easier and this can make your business processes easier.
Commonly used APIs
The most common APIs present themselves in the forms of social media. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn all have unique API specifications that allow for the sharing of data through their services.
If you've ever clicked the "Share via Facebook" button on a website to share it to your Facebook feed, you've engaged with an API.
Lost at E Minor: Twitter, Facebook & Pinterest sharing, dynamic stats
Lost at E Minor shows me how many people have shared, liked or pinned the blog I am reading on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. The relevant APIs for each of these services are supplying this information live to the blog page by pushing the information through to it. In addition, I can then share the information on my favourite social media platform by clicking the relevant button. For Facebook, I get an easy to fill in window that pushes my share straight to my Facebook feed.
The APIs made available by the social media services make sharing the blog super simple.
Complex integrations and database management
More complex API integrations that deal with large and sometimes critical information are actually more common than you might think. If you have a business that manages members in any way, it's likely that you will want to share the information you collect from your website to a central database (and possibly share updates to that central database back to the website). It's the same for e-commerce. By using a product with an available API, you can push product levels and sales data straight to your accounting software.
Customer management software such as Salesforce and accounting software such as MYOB can both integrate with websites via their respective APIs making the management of data much easier.
Things to consider about API integration
If you're using an API in your website, the most important thing to remember is that they are maintained by the third party. Because it's communicating data, if the API changes the way it talks, then it needs to be updated in your website so that the information keeps being communicated the way it's supposed to be.
Changes to APIs are generally forewarned months in advance so you have time to make the necessary updates, but it's important to consider this future maintenance when including 3rd party API integrations to your website.
Whether they are simple or complex, API’s are an integral part of the web today and offer great opportunities for you to engage with your users or streamline business processes for better efficiency. And now you have a handle on the basics for your next web developer conversation!