Marketing Tech Friday: What is an API?

Over the past few years, technology and marketing have become synonymous. We’ve even seen the rise of marketing technologists and the introduction of programmers into marketing teams. It’s becoming more and more important to have a rudimentary grasp of technology and its role.
One of the most common terms that marketers hear about (and have no clue what it means) is an API. More importantly, marketers need to know exactly how important they are.

If you’ve ever wondered what an API is and why it’s important, this is for you.

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What is an API?

The acronym API stands for Application Programming Interface. And, if you listen to the right people, some will tell you that APIs are the underpinning of “Web 2.0.”
To further break it down, APIs are a set of requirements that govern how one application can talk to another. APIs aren’t really new. Whenever you use a desktop or laptop, APIs are what make it possible to move information between programs.

That’s still vague though, so let’s dig into it a little more.

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What does an API do?

On the web, APIs make it possible for big services like Google Maps or Facebook to integrate with other apps. There are a couple of really common ways to see it in action.
Yelp, for instance, uses an API to display nearby restaurants on an Apple Map on its iOS app. An API is also what allows apps like Trivia Crack to let users sign in through their Facebook account and share achievements.

This is what an API does.

APIs do this by sharing a limited amount of a program’s internal functions to other developers. This makes it possible for applications to share data and take actions on one another’s behalf, all without requiring developers to share all of their code.
APIs simplify the entire process by limiting outside program access to a specific set of features – often request for data of one sort or another.

It saves time, resources, and potential legal issues along the way.

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How do APIs work?

APIs are especially important because they dictate how developers can create new apps that tap into big web services. These services include the biggest social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest and even the utilities like Google Maps or Dropbox. In many ways, it makes the entire web experience possible.
Going back to our Yelp example, when you search for restaurants in the Yelp iOS app, it plots their locations on Apple’s Maps. This allows Yelp to use a previously created service to enhance its user experience, instead of having to build its own custom map.

This allows Yelp to display the map within its app.

This happens all the time, and you’ve probably never even thought about it. On this page you will see the icons to share this article on many social media sites, i.e. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These are all links that call on the APIs of the associated social network.

Each link contacts the API to allow users to post about an article without leaving the site itself.

APIs are the foundation of Web 2.0. They allow your platforms to be connected, limitless sharing, and the rise of that terrible moniker – “the internet of things.” As long as developers enthusiasm for the use of APIs continues, we will continue to see the incredible explosion of apps and services they make possible.
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