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APIs and the Promise of ‘Everyware’
“Software is eating the world” — Marc Andreessen, Venture Capitalist
This summer will mark the five-year anniversary of Andreessen’s observation. Now a household phrase in technology, the tongue-in-cheek threat of a world consumed and controlled by software has been accepted alongside Moore’s Law and Hanlon’s Razor — heuristic observations of an often complicated landscape.
So five years later, was Andreessen correct?
Yes, of course he was.
From our cars to our homes, from our desks to our pockets and wrists, software is everywhere. Supported by ever-better connectivity and constantly-evolving hardware, consumers and marketers alike are constantly exploring the boundaries of modern technology. The result is exciting, and twofold: the Internet of Things, and a robust world of software that’s helping us subsume our deepest thoughts into cloud storage, and our bank accounts into our mobile phones.
As we transition into this world of “everyware,” it’s clear that software will lead the way, so as technologists, we should ask ourselves: if software is eating the world, how can we set the table for success?
Software in a nutshell
Taking a step back — what are we really talking about here?
Software is fundamentally a set of instructions; the results of executing those instructions; and a representation of those results. You hit the “A” button on your game controller, and your character jumps on the screen: software. You type letters into a text field, hit “send,” and your phone makes a specific sound as a text message dispatches: software.
This simplistic model — instructions go in, results come out — is successful enough in isolation, but it historically (and in many cases still) relies on built-for-purpose components that may not interoperate. To experience this first hand, try plugging a Nintendo controller into your phone.
Or, from a software perspective: try controlling your TV with your Casio calculator watch, or pasting text from Word into… well, anywhere, really.
Doesn’t work too well, does it?
APIs are our friends
Ok, so what if I want my watch to control my video game? If a piece of software is a set of instructions, then an API is a special subset of instructions that defines how that software interacts with the outside world. And when the outside world is filled with other pieces of software, that’s a pretty important job. “Application Program Interface” might not be the most approachable phrase, but APIs are our friends. They enable applications to interact with each other, providing structure, and through that structure, utility.
Context is everything
In more practical terms, API integrations are the difference between writing down driving directions while on the phone with your Aunt Sally; getting your mapbook out of your car; marking up your paper map — which may have the old exit numbers, by the way — keeping an eye on the odometer and road signs, and eventually pulling into a service station to ask for directions based on one of Sally’s landmarks that no longer exists (on the map, or in real life)…
…and just entering an address into the GPS on your phone, which relays traffic and road closure information and instantly pairs with your car over Bluetooth as you start up the engine with — and I assure you, this is magic — the press of a button. You hit the road more easily, quickly, and informed, so you get to your aunt’s house the best way possible.
That can apply to marketing, too. If you use Percolate, you already know the benefits of centralizing software through API integrations. After all, that’s just a technical way of describing how Percolate posts to Twitter, or monitors conversations on Facebook. It’s also a way of describing how your watch talks to your phone, how a data dashboard gathers and displays analytics, and so forth. Each one of these software integrations is providing two essential benefits:
Efficiency: I can speed up my instruction-giving if an API lets me use the same tool for all my tasks. Whether by simplifying a workflow or eliminating a cost, a well-executed software integration replaces a cost or activity with automation. For example: by posting to my blog through Percolate, I can reuse assets from the social team, leverage Percolate briefs and approvals workflows, and reduce the number of steps my publishing team takes between ideation and execution.
Context: Content and data without context are just words and numbers. Software integrations expose systems to each other, providing a holistic view to the end-user; I can do my work better when APIs give me the whole picture. For example: by synchronizing my CRM’s customer data with Percolate’s Monitoring streams, I can rapidly respond to users on Twitter while knowing about their recent interactions with my drip email campaign.
“Point solutions create silos” — Sam Seely, Percolate Analyst
Imagine a marketing technology stack without boundaries, where full end-to-end operations are executed, tracked, and analyzed in a single platform. By bringing potentially disparate teams and activities under a small umbrella, an individual, agency, or organization can reach greater scale, while operating more intelligently within a holistic context. Software integrations can break silo walls, bridging the gap from having to understanding.
Investing in the future
Like all large-scale visions, the integrated world of perfectly interoperating platforms will take time, experimentation, and cooperation to build. And like all futures, the next iterations of everyware will emerge fluidly through the actions of creators and users alike.
As an API-driven platform, Percolate is fully invested in the future of integrated software. The world of creative marketing is constantly expanding and connecting — it’s an exciting time for technology. So if software is eating the world, let’s set our table by building great APIs, and enjoy the feast as we surround ourselves with ever-greater efficiencies, and ever-richer context.