Getting Feedback From Your API Community When Developing APIs

Establishing a feedback loop with your API community is one of the most valuable aspects of doing APIs, opening up your organization to ideas from outside your firewall. When you are designing new APIs or the next generation of your APIs, make sure you are tapping into the feedback loop you have already created within your community, by providing access to the alpha, beta, and prototype versions of your APIs.

The Oxford Dictionaries API is doing this with their latest additions to their stack of word related APIs, by providing early access for their community with two of their new API prototypes that are currently in development:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the definitive authority on the English language containing the meaning, history, and pronunciation of more than 280,000 entries – past and present – from across the English-speaking world. Its historical record of the English language is traced through more than 3.5 million quotations ranging from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books.
  • offers quick and easy translations and answers to everyday language questions. As part of the Oxford Dictionaries family, it provides practical support to people using a language that is not their mother tongue.

To get access to the new prototypes, all you have to do is fill out a short questionnaire, and they will consider giving you access to the prototype APIs. It is interesting to review the questions they ask developers, which help qualify users but also asks some questions that could potentially impact the design of the API. The Oxford Dictionaries API team is smart to solicit some external feedback from developers before getting too far down the road developing your API and making it available in any production environment.

I do not think all companies, organizations, and government agencies have it in their DNA to design APIs in this way. There are also some concerns when you are doing this in highly competitive environments, but there are also some competitive advantages in doing this regularly, and developing a strong R&D group within your API ecosystem--even if your competitors get a look at things. I'm going to be flagging API providers who approach API development in this way and start developing a list of best practices to consider when it comes to including your API community in the design and development process, and leveraging their feedback loop in this way.