APIs: The Web’s Legos

Over the past two years interacting with developers and businesses, one question found its way whenever conversations begin; “What does Africa’s talking do?” And once that question is answered, it’s naturally followed by, “What is an API?” And today I would like to share with you what APIs are and the value they bring to, not only a developer’s life but to a business.

What is an API?

Glad you asked that question. (*clears throat). An API is a tool, or better yet, a helper. APIs do the heavy-lifting that a developer would do (mostly integrations into a service), by providing an easy to use programming interface. This allows the developer to simply send in a few parameters and get back a processed response from the API provider. This is the technical version. Let’s do the simpler one.

APIs are like a waiter. You give your order, the waiter checks with the kitchen and once your food is ready, it’s brought to your table with the kindest of regards from the chef. This is an oversimplification, of course, however, it captures the spirit of an API. API companies are waiters that head over to the hard to access resources and make them easier to access and consume.

Africa’s Talking makes its bucks from making telecommunication services more accessible to developers and businesses. This means that Africa’s Talking also consumes other APIs along the way as well (mostly the telecommunication company ones). For a company like Spotify, which graciously avails its APIs, a developer can create new services on top of them. This could be a playlist aggregation site or a place for friends to listen to the same playlist.

The possibilities are at the hand of your imagination.

APIs are like Legos?

If you were lucky enough to play with legos or any of its variants, you will realise, the point of them isn’t to completely reconstruct the set as intended but to mess around with it and create your own versions of the set ideal. This applies to APIs too. For many API providers, you can only give examples, similar to the images on the lego box, but at the same time you can’t anticipate what someone will do with those couple of hundreds of pieces.

As you design your business and bring together the various aspects of it that you need to make it work, there’s probably an API for that. To be honest, there’s almost an API for everything. Let me share some examples:

Want to have your customers pay for products directly from your app or site? (Africa’s Talking Payments API, MPESA Daraja) Want to automate delivery requests to your clients? (Sendy APIs) Want to keep track of customers across multiple channels? (Elarian APIs) Want to collect data from your app and save it to a Google Sheet? (Google Sheet APIs) Want to inform your customers of new offers via SMS or WhatsApp? (Africa’s Talking Messaging API)

Making APIs Count

I could go on for days on this but this should drive the point home. Anything you need as a business can be automated through an API. Now, someone will say “But there’s this app that lets me do all that”, to which I say to them, “Great. You can do it your way but I think there’s a better way”.

For most businesses, they may not realize it but a developer’s job isn’t to keep Zoom running or maintain your servers. Their job is to bring efficiency and simplicity into your business while helping revenue growth. In my opinion, the true productive work-horse unit of an organization. Once you realise how much you can automate with software, a developer becomes a critical aspect of your business. Most businesses are unique in the various opportunities they pursue and the challenges they face. A developer can help you improve your existing processes through varying degrees of automation through the unique insights they gain from being part of your organisation. I think this is the next frontier for many businesses in Africa and many developing markets.

To close this out, map out your processes, speak with your developer, get some APIs and transform your business.

This article was originally posted on Hashnode.

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