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API publishing is no longer the future; it has clearly arrived. Companies from Best Buy to MTV Networks have jumped into the game, and more are taking the plunge every day. But what differentiates a successful API program from one that "never leaves the station"?
Establish Clear Goals
Before you can determine outcomes, you need to define the criteria by which you will evaluate the progress of your API program. It is important to realize up front that direct revenue is not the only metric; in fact, focusing on immediate revenue at the expense of longer-term benefits can be an expensive diversion.
Look at your API program from a bird's eye view. Are you trying to create entirely new revenue channels, or is brand awareness your primary mission? Are you trying to add more partners to existing programs, or are you more concerned with extending the reach of your interactions with customers?
Well-defined expectations are key, but there is an important corrolary: you need to be ready to take advantage of unplanned opportunities. Michele Azar of Best Buy recently described how opening the company's API to Geek Squad employees produced unexpected benefits. By moving quickly to harness the energy of these employees, Best Buy produced immediate, tangible results.
Depending on your goals, some metrics will be more important than others. However, it is worth keeping tabs on all aspects of your program. API publishing is a process of discovery. Having a plan is imperative, but you will likely need to adjust that plan along the way. A clear 360-degree view of how your API is being used will give you the ability to make those adjustments with confidence.
Here are some metrics to track that we have gathered from our customer base and want to share with you:Business Development Pipeline
APIs can reverse the traditional business development model. Instead of looking for partners, you can use your API to attract potential partners and to function as a vetting mechanism. Those developers who are doing good work with your API will likely be inclined to engage with you further. Be sure to delineate which partners are coming in via your API program; you may be surprised at the cost effectiveness of your program as a business development tool. By making its API available for commercial as well as typical non-commercial use, the Calais team at Thomson-Reuters saw a five-times increase in its business development pipeline in just a few short months.Site Traffic
One of the keys to tracking the success of an API is measuring traffic back to your site. How do you know who has sent you the traffic, and how do you make sure they link to you if you give them the content? Just as with Google Maps, making your content and services available for free will require that your terms of service include some level of attribution. This attribution will allow you to track the traffic back to your site from each partner.Subscriptions
Depending on how your API is being used, applications may provide entry points to a subscription-based service you provide. Thumbplay and Dada Entertainment are both off-deck mobile content providers that seek to register subscribers to their services. They have opened up their APIs to allow new affiliates to help them sign up subscribers. In turn, they compensate affiliates for each new subscriber. At the Business of APIs conference in early 2008, Thumbplay talked about the short-term results of its recently launched API program. It took the company two years to get to 40 partners, but with its API program it acquired the next 40 active affiliates in six weeks. Measuring the number of subscribers that come from its successful API program has become a key part of Thumbplay's monthly board meetings.Engagement
Reaching beyond your website can improve customer satisfaction and interaction. Mike Hart, Director of Engineering, Web API for Netflix, describes this as "delighting subscribers." The company is giving customers access to new means of interacting with Netflix. The measure of success for off-site interaction is called an engagement metric. Users can interact with content and services elsewhere on the web, and Netflix measures the ongoing engagement by watching the API activity on its partner sites. The higher the API calls, the higher the engagement.Internal Cooperation
CBS Interactive built a new API with the specific aim of weaving its disparate online properties together more tightly. An internal dashboard allows managers of various CBSI sites to easily integrate content from other CBSI properties. The time savings from this streamlined workflow is not just a good way of saving frustration: it is also a serious cost-cutting tool. In such situations, analysis is not a luxury; it is an imperative.Reducing the cost of doing business
One large media company recognized that by launching an API program, it could reduce the cost of internal development. With the API, it can now deliver one to two new products and 50+ features each month to its service. In today's economic environment, this might be a valuable measure of the program's success.Number of transactions
Some of the more mature API programs, such as those of Salesforce.com, eBay, and Amazon, measure things like "number of transactions that occurred through the API." Take a look at your business functionality. Is there a growing number or percentage of transactions that occur because of partner API use?
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that publishing an API is an ongoing project rather than an event. You have to stay engaged with developers, track what they are doing, and measure the impact of your program. Staying flexible will give you the ability to pursue those opportunities (expected or otherwise) that your program creates.
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