Web APIs of All Shapes and Sizes

Not all APIs have the same capabilities and therefore they provide different levels of access to events, procedures and data. Seems obvious, but you would not think that based on the normal questions we see from people. In fact we have found that APIs can be like a lot like apples and oranges. So, with the number of available APIs growing, at a rate that can be more than 60 per month we thought people would benefit from some simple way to think of API categorization based on how they expose events and data.

We work with a large variety of APIs from a variety of service providers and have noticed that most APIs fall into a few descriptive types based on how they expose events and data. The following are the main ways we are starting to look at APIs.

  • Fire hose or “full stream”. Identi.ca and Twitter are two examples, but Flickr also has a fire hose
  • User-based stream: These services do not directly expose a full stream, but instead give people a way to assemble an aggregate stream based on a list of users. Flickr again is a good example and there are many others.
  • Activity-based Tag-based and “other”: The main way to work with these services is usually some defined activity (tag, bookmark, etc) access to information or pre-defined streams based on feeds. An example would be Delicious, which allows multiple methods to access information by APIs and feeds.

This bi-frication in API types is something people should keep in mind when they want to access a service for some specific need. If you need to get events and data for a specific need then obviously the behavior of the API is going to impact your approach. And of course here at Gnip we are hard at work trying to provide consistent approaches across all types of APIs, so back to work!