APIs - The language of the future

APIs are the digital era's linchpin, bridging data across the web. Vedran's article explores their rise, impact, and future, paralleling the universal utility of English with the transformative power of APIs in connecting our world.

5 months ago   •   7 min read

By Vedran Cindrić
Table of contents

If you come from a country where English isn’t your first language, you tend to think about languages more than Joe America. I’m one of those. Born in a relatively small European country, Croatia, and an even smaller city, Nova Gradiška. Croatians are very proud and passionate about their language. It’s a somewhat complicated language to master, especially if you want to talk like the locals. There are a lot of rules and even more exceptions. But, once you do learn it, you can enjoy an almost unlimited combination of the most amazing-sounding swear words 😀

Besides Croatian, I had to learn English from a very young age. It’s mandatory in all Croatian schools and most of Europe. Personally, I’m a fan and didn’t have a problem learning it. At first, I did it because I wanted to understand Cartoon Network, then programming, and finally business. English was, and still is, the default language for all of those use cases. Also, looking at the numbers, 60% of all internet content is in English, and more than 1.5 billion people worldwide speak it. All in all, you can’t go wrong with English in any part of the world. It’s a safe bet, the de-facto standard for exchanging information in a global world.

But times are a-changing in many different ways, shapes, or forms (pun intended). See, we’ve been sharing information since 15,000 BC. It started out as cave drawings; after that, we moved to writing books and then radio. With the advent of the internet, the amount of information and the format we use exploded. It’s no longer just plain text but images, video, and AI-generated responses. Besides the format, we’ve also changed the way we consume information. Especially in the last decade, from computers, smartphones, and wearables all the way to VR/AR devices. 

All in all, we’ve consistently found a way to share information throughout history. It’s in our DNA. It’s the only way forward for us as a civilization. One thing, however, has largely stayed the same for the past two decades: the way we exchange all that data on the internet. In most cases, that’s done via APIs. Yes, good old, mostly REST-based APIs. They have been growing. Quietly but exponentially. In the shadows of different UIs and form factors.

Why APIs?

In its State of the Internet Report from 2021., Akamai reported that 83% of all internet traffic belongs to API-based services. Cloudflare has that number at around 54%. Various developer surveys say that more than 90% of developers use APIs daily on their jobs and think they’ll use them even more in the future. 60% of organizations consider APIs a top priority strategy for them going forward. All in all, APIs and their usage is exploding. Rapidly

Understanding the true scale is almost impossible because there is no publicly available data on “how many API calls are made each day in the world”. That, however, doesn’t stop us from playing a fun guessing game:

  • Based on their own blog post, Amazon processed 1 Trillion requests in a day on Prime Day 2023. Most of those, if not all, are API calls 
  • Facebook recently published a paper on its new serverless solution called XFasS, where they mentioned they process trillions of requests per day. Most of those, if not all, are API calls
  • Based on various discussions, OpenAI handles about 1 trillion API requests per day

This is just the tip of the iceberg because most companies you and I know and have learned to love handle billions or trillions of API requests daily - they just don’t disclose that. If I had to make a wild guess, I’d say that globally, across all APIs, we’re probably talking about a quadrillion API requests per day. That’s a lot of data. Big, huge chunk of data. The best part is that most of that data is completely new - generated that day.

All those tweets, Instagram posts, bank transactions, stock purchases, iMessages…In comparison, Google’s web index size in 2008., was 1 trillion pages; by 2016, that number jumped to 130 trillion. Again, it's a huge number, but nothing compared to the number of API requests per day, let alone per month or year. The fundamental question you’re probably asking yourself now is: “How and why have APIs become so popular?”.

APIs didn’t just become popular one day, it’s been happening for the past 20 years. While everyone was focused on the shiny UIs or new hardware devices, nobody thought about what was happening in the background. I started my professional career in 2010 by building websites and mobile apps for people.

Back then, nobody even asked about an API, but by 2017. most clients were very much aware of APIs and knew their importance. Recently, with the rising popularity of AI, APIs are finally living their moment. Everyone understands and sees their full potential. Finally. 

There are many reasons why APIs work and have been working for the past 20 years. Some of them are technical, but most of them are simply all about good business:

  1. Simplification of Software Development: APIs make complex systems easier to use by providing a set of rules and protocols. This allows developers to use functionalities without building them from scratch or understanding their internal workings, speeding up the development process.
  2. Integration and Interoperability: APIs enable different systems and applications to communicate with each other, sharing data and functionalities. This helps integrate diverse systems, making combining and enhancing services or products easier.
  3. Automation: Through APIs, tasks that would normally require manual input can be automated, allowing systems to be more efficient and reducing the potential for human error. This is especially useful in managing large-scale operations and processes.
  4. Scalability: APIs allow businesses to grow more easily. As demand increases, APIs can help systems handle more users and data by connecting to additional resources or services. This makes it easier to expand services and functionalities without significant overhaul.
  5. Cost Efficiency: By leveraging APIs, companies can save on development costs. Instead of creating complex functionalities from scratch, developers can quickly use APIs to add features to their applications. This reduces development time and the cost associated with creating, testing, and maintaining new features.

APIs essentially level the playing field and allow organizations of any size to build multi-platform experiences in a much faster, scalable, and cost-effective way. Imagine you’re a small startup with scarce resources wanting to revolutionize news. All you need to build is an API and allow others as passionate as you to build different clients for mobile apps, TVs, Apple Vision, or whatever comes next. You focus on providing great content and an API while everyone else builds on top of that and helps with distribution. The same approach works for a large, already-established player. All it takes is an API. 

What does every language need?

We’ve long established that APIs are extremely popular and important to our future but how do we ensure that future is as bright as it gets? The idea of APIs is noble and, to a degree, even holy, but it largely depends on the execution. In the same way, I had to learn English from a very young age, a new generation of engineers, product folks, managers, and business owners will need to learn about APIs. At the end of the day, it’s a skill, just like everything else. You need to learn, you need to put in the 10,000 hours to be the best at it. For that to happen, you need two critical components: the ecosystem and tooling. 

In an ideal world, APIs are taught in schools, but until that happens, the next best thing is the API ecosystem or community. All those API enthusiasts, practitioners, and leaders share their experiences, thinking, and best practices. Unlike the English language, the API space is continuously evolving. You can always make something better, faster, or more understandable. It’s not done, and it never will be.

That’s the beauty and the course of APIs at the same time, but it’s also what makes it so fun. No two APIs are the same, and generally, that’s not a bad thing, but there needs to be a base minimum so the data exchange can flow much smoother. Just look at what’s happening with the AI hype; everyone is now optimizing their APIs to be more understandable to AI. Like English, slang is good, but you play by the rules when you’re in a formal setting and want everyone to understand. 

Besides learning and growing a vibrant API community, tooling is the second thing every language needs. For English, those are workbooks, tests, courses, dictionaries, and similar. In the API world, that means software that can help you and everyone on the team build and ship better APIs. That starts with API Observerablity. A fundamental for every API, every company, and every team. Without understanding your API, you can’t improve it and make it better. And no, it’s not just about understanding your performance but rather who uses your API, how, when, and how much.

That’s why we started Treblle, to help ourselves understand our APIs and users. We quickly realized that there are many more problems and tooling challenges on APIs. Everything from API Governance, Analytics, and Documentation to Security. So we started building an end-to-end APIOps that helps entire organizations build, ship, and understand their REST APIs in one single place. You can use Treblle today to address all those challenges, and we’ll tackle even more of them this year. But we can’t do it alone. The more tooling we build the faster the entire ecosystem will be able to build better APIs, and the faster APIs become the only way to exchange information. 

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a big believer in APIs and their inevitable impact on our future. It’s our nature to share information, and we’ll only do more of it. The same way, we’ll invent more and more different devices and experiences that allow us to consume that information. APIs will help us get there and we’ll help you with your APIs. 

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