how to accelerate diffusion of applications and content

by Urs E. Gattiker on 2008/11/11 1 views

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APIs and widgets are being part of the same strategy. Both are freeing up your content to propagate around the blogosphere or web. This helps spreading your message and/or functionality.

This post explains how you can achieve this goal a bit smarter and faster.

Almost everybody will tell you that if you wish to survive the long and never-ending journey on the road to achieve success for your application or work/blog, having a widget as well as an API for your application is critical.

Below I list my thoughts about this topic.

What is an API?

As you know, Application Programming Interfaces or APIs allow outside developers to build on top of your application.

An API enables a programmer to take data from one service and integrate in his or her own to do more with it.

While APIs are not as accessible as widgets, as only developers can make use of them, nevertheless, APIs can enable broad, site wide adoption of a web service.

To illustrate, the difference between open software and proprietary code is that whilst the former allows you to look at the code, the latter keeps it secret. Hence, locking up the garage means nobody gets access to the car. With open source code, it is similar to a garage where visitors can enter and leave freely to study the code and take the engine apart, rebuild the engine and then take the car for a test drive.

An API is somewhat in between, whilst you cannot take the engine apart, you can borrow the car if you ask in the right way (by calling the ‘get car’ API in your own application code).

What is a widget?

The primary difference between widgets and APIs is in their use case. For instance, widgets propagate one by one. Therefore, every time somebody downloads and installs a widget on another website or weblog, this adds another consumer to the list of one’s clients.

For instance, using WordPress as blogging software enables one to choose from many widgets. Each widget provides a service that makes your blog more attractive such as listing the most popular comments, subscribe via e-mail to blog postings, and check out the archive, most often viewed blog post and so forth.

As well, Alltop offers a widget that enables one to have some of the news (based on one category such as Barack Obama) of blogs that Alltop covers listed on one’s own blog. All it takes is to copy the html and paste it on your blog – nifty.

Nice is that even if you are not a geek, you can probably take advantage of a widget on your blog or website.

What makes a good API?

APIs are not difficult to create. Nevertheless, application developers and vendors must document their API. Leaving it undocumented makes it difficult for developers to understand its purpose in the not so distant future. Put simply, undocumented APIs are not very helpful.

National Public Radio – US – an example of how a good API documentation should look like

A properly executed API can propagate content in batches of 10, 100 or more people.

A good API helps another developer to make her application better, while permitting you to reach more people. Examples are ComMetrics footprint index, Technorati Authority, Yahoo! InLinks, Facebook and many more applications that offer other developers the use of an API.

What makes a good widget?

A good widget is a tool that makes life easier for the user. In turn, the person using your widget makes her website or blog more interesting for her clients.

The key here is that a good widget helps the user to be more effective or offer his or her clients more benefits. A good widget is similar to a nifty little tool; neither being bulky nor difficult to use it just simplifies doing your daily chores.

Bottom line

A widget propagates one by one. Whenever a user installs the widget, it increases its diffusion. An API is accessible to developers only. Hence, at first its distribution is to fewer people than a widget. In contrast, making an API available for an application assures diffusion of the information or content to thousands of people.

Probably the best way forward is to have a few widgets available for your users as well as an API. In the US, NPR – National Public Radio, gives a good example of doing this effectively:

NPR widgets – listeners used NPR’s API and created widgets for other listeners to download and use

Making a well-documented API empowered NPR’s listeners to create widgets. These again helped spreading NPR’s great content further across the web and faster. Try to repeat their approach it works.

See also:

Widget Resources

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