If you're building serious Web applications, whether for internal projects or as commercial offerings, and you want to maximize the reach of your services, you're going to have to provide an API.
The rationale is simple: Underlying your services will be a heap of logic and for the majority of Web applications that logic is where the value lies – the user interface is usually more like window dressing.
But creating and publishing an API is a big undertaking. For Web applications you’ll need to build an authorization system, a rate limiting mechanism, a statistics gathering and analysis system, exception handling methods, support and trouble ticketing services, and, if you’re going to charge for the use of your API, a tracking and billing system.
In other words you could be looking at spending tens of thousands of dollars to get a professional, reliable, and fully featured API up and running.
There is, however, an alternative. Recently launched 3scale Networks had the brilliant idea that it could provide all of the components you might need to build, run, and manage an API and create a business in the process. Brilliant!
3scale provides a framework that allows users to sign up, select usage plans, and then issues and manages API access keys, and controls actual usage.
The service also includes WSDL support, manages documentation (wikis and downloads) and user forums, provides detailed API usage tracking by user and down to individual API methods, and even suggests API optimizations! In addition, 3scale manages user billing and pays collected fees monthly.
3scale says its service starts at around $200 per month and its list of featured existing clients is intriguing.
I think that 3scale’s service is, as I wrote at the beginning, a brilliant idea. Given the huge number of moving parts that have to be coordinated and managed to get a serious Web application off the ground, it would appear to be a no-brainer to capitalize on the opportunity to get your commercial API up and running more cheaply and faster than you could in-house.