In this article you will learn what challenges API owners can face (specifically the WebKnox APIs
) and why we went with mashape for monetization.
Let me introduce WebKnox first. WebKnox is a Web intelligence platform offering a wide range of APIs from Jokes
, Keywords, Text-Processing
, Question Answering
over a Proxy API
to a Recipe API
. WebKnox's goal is to become a precise question answering service leveraging the wisdom of the crowds.
In the process of creating WebKnox, we realized that many of our algorithms, like sentiment analysis, named entity recognition, and recipe search, can also be useful for others. Therefore, we started creating APIs to make our services available to the growing API community. We started with 3 scale
, which was already a good service but it required us to change and update our existing code, so we kept looking for other solutions. Starting our search, it became more and more clear what our requirements were.
Challenges for API owners
Let me walk you through some challenges, that I believe many API authors are facing.
A very cumbersome task is to document your API. Keeping a documentation up to date is just a tedious process but more challenging is building an interface for the interested user to test the API online! We built our own API overview page
, where users can actually play around with the API.
Be found and get publicity
Another problem for users is to find you. Once the API is nicely documented, and ready to be tested by developers, nobody even knows it exists. Nowadays, there are more and more API directories like Programmable Web, Public APIs, or API for That, where you can list your API and developers might find it more easily. It is still helpful to give your API a search friendly name like "Recipe API" so that people googling for a solution may find it as well.
Grow and engage
Once your API is found and gets some users, you may want to get some feedback on whether they like it, what features they are missing, what ideas they have to improve it, and how often and what for they are using the API. All this information can be used to improve your service and grow the API. Especially in some domains like text processing or face detection where there are so many competitors, it is highly valuable to listen to users and make them happy to gain competitive advantage.
An lastly, of course, you may want to make some money off your hard work. But setting up accounts, managing API keys, and handling payments is a lot of trouble for a small API provider that wants to focus on the functionality and not necessarily the business model.
API Monetization with Mashape
Enter mashape. Mashape contacted us in 2012 to join the 1,100 APIs listed at that time. Of course, we felt honored and gave it a try. Very early it became clear that mashape was not just an API directory but a all-in one solution for API providers. Mashape can help with all the challenges mentioned in the last section. Let me tell you how it helps us.
Mashape makes documentation extremely easy with simple forms that are partially filled automatically when you call your API from their site. This is very convenient and allows for quick updates. Furthermore, the user can test each endpoint of our API from mashape to see what he can expect when he signs up.
Another great thing that mashape offers are the code libraries that wrap the API. No matter whether you develop in PHP, Java, C#, or other languages, you can simply download the package and start using the API without writing your own wrapper. That lowers the barrier for developers tremendously.
Be found and get publicity
Mashape does also a good job in promoting our APIs. Whenever we create a new API, it can get featured on mashape's newsletter and we can see an increase in users right after. I also have found mashape employees on Quora where they recommended APIs to relevant questions which I thought was very high quality marketing and beneficial for mashape and the API provider.
Grow and engage
Mashape offers a variety of analytics so API providers can see who uses which API and endpoint when and how often. Users with problems can simply use the built-in ticket system to communicate with the API provider. Usually, users report errors or create feature requests. Sometimes, however, API consumers complain about incorrectly charged API calls and request refunds which should rather be directed to mashape and not the API provider. I'm sure mashape will come up with a solution for that soon though.
And of course, mashape's best part is that it helps us monetize our APIs very simply. We create up to four plans per API (usually we follow a freemium model), where we can determine how many calls per day or month are allowed and how much each additional request costs. The cost control is simple to set for us and very easy to understand for the consumer. Mashape then simply takes a cut of 20% for all their services. We find this to be a fair share given all mashape has to offer.
WebKnox's APIs have been on mashape for about two years now and besides the great features it has to offer, I want to highlight the good feeling I have with those guys. Whenever we have a problem or idea, we can simply drop them an email and they get back quickly, giving us the feeling we've been heard. They really strive to make the life of API providers simpler, for example, recently they asked us for opinions on the priority of upcoming features. All these interactions make us feel we are welcome and have an influence on shaping mashape.
My tip for finding the API directory that best suits your needs is to (a) define your requirements, (b) prioritize them, and (c) compare this list to features of a couple of API directories.