API Report author and API all-purpose evangelist Kin Lane worked with Steven Wilmott to launch the API Commons in November of 2013, a site dedicated to the purpose of providing “a simple and transparent mechanism for the copyright free sharing and collaborative design of API specifications, interfaces and data models.” On the site, API authors are enabled to clearly share reproducible code, and other developers can then adopt, reuse, and collaborate to build on existing functionality. This represents values that the OpenStand community embraces, particularly Collective Empowerment, which values open standards that serve as building blocks for iterative development and innovation.
In this interview with InfoQ, Lane spoke with Jeremy Louvel about the positive response to the launch, and the overall importance of open source API design. Lane said he and Steven Wilmott were led to launch the Commons because they felt “strongly that API designs should remain openly licensed, allowing for re-use of the best API patterns available today. People tend to emulate what they see, and without common patterns, providers tend to reinvent the wheel each time. In 2014, you should have common patterns for calendars, directories, images, videos and other resources we depend on every day for personal and business apps.”
As we know, rights and ownership problems abound in this creative space. Louvel referenced the ongoing battle over Java APIs in Android between Google and Oracle. In response, Lane pointed to Java as an example of the “industry and community that can rise up around a meaningful interface,” pointing out that API reuse was fundamental in the growth of two of the major movements on the Internet in the last decade: social & cloud. Both of these areas have transformed how we live and conduct business in 2015.
API reuse, like open standards, may play a critical role in the development of future transformative technology. Lane and Wilmott’s approach in API Commons is to make the transparency of API standards and licenses as crystal-clear as possible, and to drive forward the “positive elements of what we have learned on the open internet, from open source software, and from developing distributed, social applications that scale via cloud computing.
The most important thing now, according to Lane, is to tell stories: “Craft stories around APIs, their design, deployment, and impact they make–stories that matter to end-users.” Open API needs to resonate with the people who end up using the products that derive from its development, and the value needs to be connected, through stories, to the users.
Open API Commons embraces very similar principles of cooperation, openness, and empowerment to the OpenStand Principles, which are extensible far outside of standards development. When asked by OpenStand editorial staff, Lane says:
“We have a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to securing the web, mobile, and device based applications, that are becoming ubiquitous across our personal and business worlds. To move us forward, businesses must become more open and transparent, working together to define open standards that support the interfaces we are increasingly depending on. Restricting the usage of common API patterns, moves us backwards, not forward in this fight, suffocating innovation and creating security risks. The OpenStand principles apply to the model we’re using at API Commons, by encouraging and supporting cooperation, adherence to the principles of openness, transparency, balance and consensus, collective empowerment, availability and voluntary adoption.”