"In a Web of Apps, APIs are the new hyperlinks." -- @ragavan
Lucas Meadows stashed this in Web
Without hyperlinks, there is no web. Links are the tangled mess that makes the web meaningful to us humans. Links are connections between related pieces of content. Links are why we stay up to 2 a.m. reading random Wikipedia articles about spider silk, the Berlin Wall, and Katy Perry. Without links, the web is just the internet consumed via a browser, one deliberately requested url at a time. More algorithmically, search engine crawlers rely heavily upon links in their never ending quest to index the web. Without the <a> tag, discoverability on the web would be in a truly miserable state.
Simple, ancient (by internet reckoning), and effective -- no one can deny the significance and beauty of the hyperlink.
But the web is changing.
For better or for worse, fewer and fewer citizens of the web are represented by a personal site hosted on some home server. When was the last time you googled "princess leia pics" and came across a web ring (remember those?) of interlinked personal pages dedicated to plagiarizing the best Star Wars content on the net?
We want services to give us an easy way to post and consume information. Want to find a person? Hit facebook.com and enter their name in the typeahead box. Pictures of hot girls in yoga pants? There's a tumblog for that. Find a good one and you can reblog to your followers. Find a good tweet and you can retweet to your followers thru whatever mobile client you installed on your iPhone.
Hopefully we will always have a wide, tangled web of inter-href'd pages maintained by disparate parties accountable to no one but themselves, but increasingly our online activities are becoming less about clicking links around to different domains, and more about clicking the "in reply to" link to see what the heck that guy you follow on Twitter was talking about, or clicking a notifications to see what someone said about your Facebook status.
The web is becoming more and more about functionality, about data available via a service. It's not just about linked "static" content anymore.
So Ragavan is making an excellent point. As centralized services become more important to us for the data they expose, openness and sharing on the web come to depend as much upon proprietary APIs as they have historically depended on good ol' Web 1.0 hyperlinks.
Want to do you part to keep the web tangled, diverse, and great? Have your service expose an API built on open standards, and be kind to developers.
It would seem that John Lilly agrees (and who loves the web more than a Mozilla CEO?). In the tweet below he shares a link (via Twitter for Pad) to an O'Reilly article about the importance of APIs by a journalist still buzzing with the joy of OSCON 2011.
Apps aren't always the right answer. Sometimes web/API much better. http://t.co/xWMB5mS (ht @pahlkadot)
Already app stores are swarming with multitudes of downloadable apps, each of which is taking a small bite out of the web.
Have some interesting data that you feel would enrich the web? Maybe an open API would do far more good than a proprietary iPhone app. And be nice to third party developers! I'm looking at you, Twitter and FB!
I did notice that Twitter has been removing the RSS API's in favor of rate-limited proprietary API's and no one has raised a stink about it.
I agree that hyperlinks are beautiful and closed formats are anti-Web.
The real question is, who fights for the Open Web these days? Mozilla and who else?