The Great API debate of 2007


{ Fred Wilson second from left with the double M at a Fortune event… CC by Esther }

The great debate about the important of an API/platform continues thanks to a post from Fred today (which is based on an email exchange I had with Fred last night). As a note to friends new and old of Fred Wilson–and a number of us FOFs have talked about this recently–if you talk to Fred about something *do* expect it to be on his blog within 24-48 hours.

The half-life between a conversation with Fred’s blackberry and his blog is perhaps the shortest in the industry–so know that when you’re chatting with Fred. 🙂

[ Just busting on you Fred, but you are getting a reputation of firing off on your blog really quickly after email/conversations with folks.. only bringing it up because it feel a little more pronounced with you than the normal blogger. 🙂 ]

Here is my response to Fred’s post:

Thanks for the post Fred. I’ve decided to not engage the spat, but instead focus all my energy on the core issue you bring up here.

We’ve always planned an API and we have always considered syndication of our content to be important. At the time of my demo at Gnomedex were 90 days old and didn’t have it ready–that simple. My point in the statement above is that I *think* you have to have a product that people love in order to have the subsequent platform.

For example:

1. Would YouTube be a powerful platform if not for their very powerful product (a simple clean interface, free Flash hosting, and easy to use syndication tools) first?
2. Would Twitter be a powerful platform if not for creating their very powerful product (the first simple to use SMS group messaging system… UPOC might have been first, but it certainly wasn’t as simple and was head of its time) first?

In other words, from what I can tell you build a core product with a base audience and then open up your platform. If you don’t get the core product and audience correct I’m not certain your API is going to help you (or help you that much). People would not be developing for the Twitter and YouTube APIs if they didn’t have the traffic–would they? (I’m not sure, that is a real question).

Also, Pownce has launched with 10x BETTER features than Twitter from what I can tell. So, the truth might be that TWITTER is waiting for developers while POWNCE is eating their lunch. POWNCE is a MUCH, MUCH better product than TWITTER right now. Like, it’s not even competition when I talk to the A-List power users who LOVE Twitter but have no choice but to love Pownce more.

Pownce has file transfer, clean link handling, it’s faster, it’s more stable, it has threaded messages, and it handles videos inline like a charm. Plus events… plus your other social networks… plus… plus…. plus….

Now, I love the TWITTER and the TWITTER team. I think I’m still in the Twitter top 10 users and I use both services equally today. However, I’m finding that POWNCE’s pace of development is so much faster than TWITTERs that the race is starting to look like its already over. As an investor in Twitter I would tell them to stop waiting for the community to build the features POWNCE has native and hire five more developers and catch up!
An API and developer community is great unless your competitor is lapping you…. perhaps then it’s time to spend some money and hire some more developers at Twitter? Of course, maybe if BIZ and EV focus on the developer community they will rocket past POWNCE as their free-developer pool springs into action…. right? I really don’t know, but I do know as a user I like POWNCE much more right now…. and I love TWITTER, so that says something.

For Mahalo we wanted to have a product built out first (i.e. 25,000 search terms) and then bring out the API. The correct point from Gnomedex was that we need to build a win-win between developers and our company, but I believe there is another WIN missing there: the win for the users. So, it’s really a WIN-WIN-WIN you need to build: a win for audience, developer, and your company.

Our API is well underway with amazing companies (some which you know) using it. The API group is here:
http://groups.google.com/group/mahalo-development

And some folks are playing here:
http://www.codingrobots.com/mahalo/
http://www.socialham.com/2007/08/05/mahalo-badge-redux/
http://www.slakinski.com/
http://www.slakinski.com/2007/08/grazr-meets-mahalo.html

Mahalo has gotten way too much attention for such a young company frankly. I wanted to build this one a little slower and under the radar , but I guess that was folly on my part. The concept is too big and I’m to bombastic to fly under the radar any more….so, all I can do is be transparent at this point: we’re working on the API as fast as we can, we’re working to get to 25,000 pages as fast as we can, and we don’t know EXACTLY what this product will look like in years two, three, four and five. However, I can tell you we’ve shown about 10% of the plan to date…. so, there is a lot more in the lab right now so please look at us as a very public beta (we dropped the alpha when we passed 10,000 pages last month! :-).

all the best and thanks for the post,

Jason

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