What the Heck is an API and Why Do I Need One for My Business?


When it comes to having a successful online business and maintaining a strong presence, simply having a website to advertise your services and to provide a satisfying experience for your customers often isn’t enough anymore. Whether it’s integrating with social media, providing a mobile app, or some other method of making yourself more visible to your target audience, accessibility from as many platforms as possible is vital. The internet is a big place, after all, and anything you can take advantage of to stand out from the crowd can make all the difference. Some of the more popular social media services, such as Twitch and Discord, have even taken to developing desktop PC apps to increase their market share.

Maintaining a service on multiple platforms, however, can be difficult and costly. You must develop a user experience that works well around the limitations of each individual platform, as well as, maintaining your code to keep up with updates in that platform’s technology along with any additions and changes of your own. Ensuring that your core application can interact with the various platforms you want to maintain is a necessity, and the best way to handle that is through the use of Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs for short.

Using an API allows you to abstract the information that comes to your core application from each of the platforms you use. This is accomplished by defining a universal set of actions that allows each client app to receive input from the end-user using whatever logic the individual platform uses, and converting that input to a single common protocol that they can use to communicate with the core application. In other words, if you think of each platform as a different language, the API translates all those various languages into one that your application can understand.

This can be immensely useful for a number of reasons:

  • Having a defined set of functions that all communicate with your application, in the same way, allows you to provide your users with a streamlined experience across several platforms. Whether they’re accessing your service via an Android phone, an iPad, or through a web interface, they will always be able to use the same methods to get the same result.
  • You can add new features to your service, or change existing ones, independently of the client apps on each platform; all they need is to receive data in the format they expect from each API request.
  • Since the API will always receive requests in the same format no matter what platform is sending it, your core application won’t need any modifications to cater to any one platform in particular, which can cut down on development time as well as costs.

Integrating an API into your website may require a bit of upfront time and effort, but considering the benefits of extending your access to platforms that are currently in use as well as those that may come in the future, the return on investment of increased marketability, as well as future-proofing your service, can be priceless.

Written by Ray C.