Open your data to the world

Public APIs let customers connect to you in new ways.

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Best Buy's Bendt also faced concerns. "It was tough when we first started talking about an API platform," he says. Colleagues wondered, "What are they going to build? What if they create a bad experience?" The company addressed that with rules about how developers could use the data; they must attribute it to Best Buy, for instance, and can't appropriate it for other purposes. There's no pre-approval of apps, but the company does regular audits to make sure the apps comply with the terms of service.

At the World Bank there was worry that giving away data would mean giving up the revenue that paid for curation of the data. Fantom says the bank decided that a free model would actually be better for the bank's main objective of fighting poverty. "By making these data available for free and using these tools, we've seen a massive increase in the use of our data," he says. "Once you start getting into this, it's pretty clear that this is the right thing to do."

All these organizations say their APIs continue to evolve, adding new functionality, responding to feedback from developers and customers and figuring out what data to make available. "You've got to release the right kind of data with the right documentation. Really, it comes down to what customer problems are you going to solve by doing what you do," Bendt says. "It's not a launch-it-and-leave-it type of capability. It's constant learning and constant improvement."

Neil Savage is a freelance science and technology writer in Lowell, Mass. He can be reached at neil@stefan.com.

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This story, "Open your data to the world" was originally published by Computerworld.

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