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Designing New Information Services via Mix and Match APIs

In the early days of the Internet boom there was a customizable “newspaper” called CraYoN (“Create your own newspaper”) that allowed folks to mix and match chunks of content (stock graphs, sports team news, regional news, industry-specific news, etc.) to create their own “current awareness” service. You don’t need to look around very much these days to see that these folks really saw the future coming very clearly.

As Internet media matures those early chunks of code that CraYoN users could mix and match are now a wide array of APIs that can be integrated into web sites and apps. In fact, the proliferation of APIs has made it possible to create unique and compelling information services by mixing and matching these APIs and adding just enough of a barrier to entry (proprietary content, services, unique software functionality) to stave off copycats. Firms taking this approach (Kayak, Bankrate, etc.) are using differing business models, but they usually involve state-of-the art SEO strategies, the sale of advertising and preferred placement, and LeadGen bounties from ecommerce partners. Their success is spurring the creation of next-generation services and there is likely to be a real boom in new product development based on this mix-and-match approach as the barriers to entry gets lower and lower.

One Austin-based firm, Infochimps, was set up specifically to help folks find those APIs and datasets that can power these new information services. They see markets for these APIs both with the developers of publicly available information services as well as with those folks designing the proliferating in-house applications behind corporate firewalls. Of course, the folks selling news and information services into enterprises have long been aware of the market for API-versions of their services. The sophistication of internal applications is getting to the point now, however, where many of them rival and exceed the functionality of content aggregation and other information services from the industry’s major players.

Will the information industry completely devolve to the point where the display and organization of proprietary data (the work that costs us so much to do and is fraught with pitfalls) is simply not our responsibility anymore? I think industry players will have to choose either that route (focusing on making their data unique and must-have) or commit to the development of truly robust applications. Which side of this great divide will your firm be on come 2015?

posted by Shyamali Ghosh on December 26, 2011

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