Alctel-Lucent is acquiring mashup pioneer Programmable Web, a developer favorite, known in social technology circles as the premiere sources for APIs.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Programmable Web will operate independently of Alcatel-Lucent as a subsidiary of the company. Its service will be available to Alcate-Lucent customers. Founder John Musser said Programmable Web will expand its services to do deeper coverage of the API universe.

Programmable Web is the leading source for APIs. It’s a comprehensive resource for Web services. It serves as a directory, a news source and a catalog. But perhaps its largest value is as a community. Developers comment and rate the 2,000 APIs that are part of the service. it’s blog is written by a group of knowledgeable writers such as Adam DuVander, whose book about developing maps on the Web will be published this summer.

The calibre of that community is a big benefit to Alcatel-Lucent, which provides a platform for network operators and developers. The company is seeking developers to use its platform for developing mobile applications that customers can offer as a service. By attracting high quality developers, it can in turn encourage service providers to expose its network assets — such as identity, preferences and presence. Application developers can then in turn use that information in its own services.

Alcatel-Lucent talks a lot about the ecosystems that are emerging in the developer word and how the vitality of an API is dependent on a community culture.

They believe that by fostering community they can help expose the platform’s network capabilities to a far larger community of developers than is possible today. The goal is to serve as a Switzerland of sorts, focusing on being neutral more than anything else.

The challenge comes with bringing two disparate communities together. And there are the additional hurdles that come in a market that is increasingly competitive. IBM, Amazon, VMware, Microsoft Windows Azure and a host of others are competing with Alcatel-Lucent either directly or indirectly.

Post iPhone World

Michael Cote, an analyst with Red Monk, says that the Programmable Web acquisition is an enticement for carriers to learn more about the services they can provide customers. It also provides developers with another reason to use the end-to-end service that Alcatel-Lucent is developing.

But these are still early days and carriers practically print money. They need enticing to some degree. Inversely, the carriers are playing catch up to some degree.

Cote says that carriers need to learn how to compete in the “post iPhone,” world. It’s a market that is more about the “i” than the phone. Alcatel-Lucent can help be a bridge. They’re a traditional company that customers can trust.

That’s a different world for the carriers, which still make the lions share of its revenues from core traditional services. They sell minutes or SMS messaging. But as more people use smartphones, the demand for apps will scale. Apps in many respects will serve as a differentiator for the carriers.

Laura Merling, vice president of Alcatel-Lucent’s global developer strategy. points out that the market is still young and fragmented. For instance, customers are now asking about how open APIs can connect to cars, homes and other devices. By providing a resource like Programmable Web, customers can learn more about the APIs available. They will also get access to analytics about the APIs, providing another window into the market.

We are moving to a world where APIs provide a way for connecting any kind of device. Services like Programmable Web act as a content network and a directory that gets its strength from the community it serves.

By acquiring the company, Alcatel-Lucent has the opportunity to provide it customers with a way to see a path in the rapidly unfolding API marketplace.

Disclosure: Alcatel-Lucent is a sponsor of ReadWriteWeb.