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Most people don’t understand or recognize the significance of the humble shipping container. Before shipping containers, all goods were manually loaded into sacks, barrels and wooden creates loaded directly onto cargo vessels – known as break-bulk shipping. It could take up to 3 weeks to unload and load each ship. Today’s massive container ships can be unloaded and loaded within 24 hours, thanks to the advent of the shipping container.

Before web API’s were common, software was hand crafted by software artisans with help from reusable software class libraries - can anyone remember Rogue Wave - and early open source software. We loaded all of these software components (goods) into our code repositories (hulls) and set sail. Like our dockside forefathers, we spent weeks (or months or years) integrating and testing.

Cometh the API. From the OpenAPI standard: “The OpenAPI Specification (OAS) defines a standard, language-agnostic interface to HTTP APIs which allows both humans and computers to discover and understand the capabilities of the service without access to source code, documentation, or through network traffic inspection.”

API standards are software’s shipping container. We have the ability to transport software messages via the internet through any cloud app and create value. This is a magic innovation that is still to reach its full potential. With the digitization of all businesses, combined with software labor shortages, APIs are now more important than ever to build software that is both economically viable, timely and delivers good customer experiences.

Many bright sparks have been able to bottle this magic into a company. One of my favorite examples is Jeff Lawson from Twilio. The twilio API is a telco in a shipping container. Thanks Jeff. And the emergence of companies like Stripe - payments in a shipping container. Thanks John Collison!

The viability of Uber and Airbnb have much to do with the early stage of APIs and were built using standard APIs. Many new companies built this way will emerge. As a former CIO I could also see the emergence of API-First companies as a percentage of our corporate IT spend, so they were definitely capturing value.

Can you name your favourite API-First company?


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