A decent API can be a wonderful thing, allowing a host of innovative products to build up around a core service, and as such add value to the core service. Everyone’s a winner! If you want an example you need look no further than Twitter. Would Twitter really have taken off to the extent it did without numerous developers building around it? Probably not.
Unfortunately whilst some organizations pay lip-service to the idea of anAPI, their controlling culture means they stop the innovation they are meant to encourage. The latest (and by no means the first) API to annoy me is from Transport for London:
My initial joy at an official API soon turned to annoyance. Rather than allowing me to play with the data and seeing what I can do with it, I am expected to fill in a form beforehand explaining who I am and what I want to do! There is nothing wrong with asking me to sign up and with an email address, but should my phone number be mandatory?
And what if I don’t have an IP address? What if I want to create an application for my mobile, that will sit on my mobile and have a different IP address every time I use it?And even if I did know what I was planning to do with the data, the idea that I would have any idea what the audience would be is just stupid.When creating an API don’t try and gather all the information you can, just gather the information you absolutely need. And if you need too much, improve your API so you don’t have to ask for so much! Every form and field that you insist on including in the sign-up will dissuade numerous developers from innovating around your services. Everyone loses.
Was this API worth the months of waiting? No. #barclayscyclefail
As I have mentioned in this blog before, I am very easily distracted. Especially when it comes to the working day, during which I will probably check my emails a thousand times, and Twitter twice as often (see my old personal circle of distraction here). I am by no means alone in this, around the world at any one time millions of people are on Twitter and Facebook [how old fashioned] as they try to distract themselves from the tedium of work. But rather than making their working hours more enjoyable, is it actually making the day less enjoyable? Probably.
Last week I was reading Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality, an enjoyable behavioural economics book (albeit not quite as enjoyable as his earlier Predictably Irrational). In it Dan spends some time talking about adaption; how we can get used to our personal situation over time. For instance, if we win the lottery, we may initially be thrilled, but we quickly get used to it over time.
The process of adaption is equally true for dealing with less pleasant experiences, such as work. If we have a large piece of work to complete that is not particularly interesting, if we work on it solidly we will adapt to it over time, but if we constantly break off from the work we will never fully adapt to the situation and will actually make the work harder for ourselves.
Today we find ourselves in a situation where many of us are constantly breaking off from our jobs, momentary boredom sees us instantly firing up the browser window and surfing the web. Whilst I can hardly imagine a world where I wouldn’t have that opportunity to do so, I’m not convinced that it’s made the my working day any better, especially when I have specific tasks to do. Before the heady days of academia I had some of the world’s worst jobs – 12 hour shifts taking the shells off of hard-boiled eggs being a particular highlight – and whilst the task of writing an academic paper is far more enjoyable than that of trussing chickens (another of my many jobs), the fact that I constantly break off from the task means it doesn’t always feel like it.