How do APIs affect mobile for publishers?
November 8, 2011
USA Today's iPad app
Choosing only select data sets from an API for mobile Web sites and applications is crucial for publishers to reach the most consumers.
In order to maximize a mobile strategy, publishers need to think about only the essential elements to bring from a Web to mobile experience. Additionally publishers need to be particular about which parts of their APIs they are willing to license out to companies.
“In mobile, you only want to show the most critical information,” said Jason Guenther, vice president of technology and product development at ESPN, Bristol, CT.
“Mobile puts an extra parameter on APIs to only pick select data sets, which is why we try to get on every device," he said.
Pick your battles
For ESPN, APIs are fairly new and are still being worked into the publisher’s overall digital plan.
“Our API strategy is part of our plan for maximizing mobile, but we are still experimenting with it,” Mr. Guenther said.
ESPN is using a partial-response API theory, meaning it allows third parties to request only relevant information.
For example, while a complete set of data and code might be needed on one of ESPN’s partners Web sites, they might only be interested in the most recent scores to share on the partner’s mobile Web site or applications.
A partial-response system also makes sense for a mobile API strategy because of the challenges faced with a mobile device.
Unlike a Web experience, bandwidth and storage space is limited on mobile and handsets can only carry a certain amount of data.
From a developer standpoint, being flexible with which sets of data you are willing to receive is important so that the APIS are not overwhelmed with requests.
Here is ESPN's ScoreCenter iPhone app
Marketers need to think of APIs as the building blocks to creating new experiences for users, especially on mobile.
If a company is building an app and wants to incorporate nuggets of information into it, it needs to think about exactly what the app needs to have and where they can find a piece of code to accomplish its goal.
“It’s important to use all the different services to make something unique for consumers,” said Oren Michels, CEO of Mashery, San Francisco.
Any company that uses an API can also set its own rules on how much data it wants to give to others.
For mobile advertising, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has set up a standard with using APIs in rich mobile ads.
Rich media ads involve multiple components, which means they include a specific type of code.
Therefore, it is important to roll out standards so publishers know what they can and cannot incorporate into their mobile efforts.
Publishers can also form partnerships based on how much data they are willing to give over to third parties.
USA Today has made partnerships a key part of its strategy, which APIs play a major role in.
“Our strategy around our digital products is to be everywhere and anywhere our users are, whether it is online or on mobile,” said Erik Bursch, director of operations and content systems at USA Today, Washington.
“There are new platforms coming out all the time, and USA Today is always looking to adapt to them,” he said.
“APIs enable us to make content relationships move quickly.”
USA Today routes every platform the company has with its API.
With an API, clients can make specific requests on which pieces of information they want from a publisher.
For example, one of USA Today’s partners might want to make a request on USAtoday.com, but only be interested in sports data, and with an API they can specify which pieces of data they want.
However, a publisher opening up an API publicly can help spread content and make it easier to be found by consumers.
USA Today released its API in 2010 to help developers tap into the publisher’s content (see story).
In addition to forming partnerships, APIs let publishers leverage existing digital products, including smartphones and tablets.
Similar to all digital initiatives, the key to successfully using APIs is to put them in perspective with all other channels.
“The goal at the end of the day is that API has to scale,” ESPN’s Mr. Guenther said.
“Every environment has its own needs,” he said.
Lauren Johnson is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York
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