For today’s business, the API is the new website

Bernard Golden (HyperStratus), Randy Bias (Cloudscaling), Sam Ramji (Apigee) - Structure 2011In recent years, the increasing abundance of open APIs have changed the way companies do business — in a major way.

In an onstage conversation during day two of the GigaOM Structure 2011 conference in San Francisco, three API experts — HyperStratus CEO Bernard Golden, Cloudscaling co-founder and CTO Randy Bias, and Apigee VP of strategy Sam Ramji — discussed how well-designed APIs can have a positive impact on a company’s strategy.

It turns out, having an API can be useful to companies on all ends of the tech-savvy spectrum. “APIs are [beneficial] to digital natives like Netflix (s NFLX), and digital immigrants like Sears (s SHLD),” Ramji said. In fact, he said, having an API today is just as important, and common, as having a website in the year 2000. “The impact is pretty huge, and the benefits are obvious.”

Golden, who served as the panel’s moderator, drew a similarity between APIs and another major software movement. “This reminds me a lot of open source, where it started small, and gets adopted first in a small group,” he said. “You have to have a sales and marketing strategy that supports that.”

Ramji agreed heartily to the open source comparison, especially in regard to the ideal API pricing model. “It’s critical to have a freemium model for your API so that any developer in the world can get out there and start using it.”

It’s extremely important for companies to be forthright about their overall strategy if they want their API to be successful, Bias said. “If the provider of the API is opaque about their intentions and their roadmap, there’s hesitancy there [on the part of the developer].”

It’s also key for API providers to be prepared to scale if any one of the applications built on top of it takes off, Bias said. “You don’t know who’s going to use [the API], and you shouldn’t have to know that in advance,” he said. “In order to build these next generation, cloud-ready applications, you have to really think through that cloud-ready infrastructure.”