If you believe a recent report from analysis firm Gartner, in just two years, we’ll be overrun by citizen developers (normal, untrained computer users) building 25% of new business applications. A major facilitator for these newbies? Some have posited that cloud-based API mash-ups would be so easy to use, toddlers would soon be selling mobile apps. But now, San Francisco’s hottest Platform-as-a-Service company, Salesforce (which recently acquired Heroku), is running toward developers, not away from them. And a key to success, said ProgrammableWeb founder John Musser, is the developer—not user—experience.
Companies like MailChimp or SendGrid (for e-mail marketing and commerce) and Twitter, according to author Pamela Fox, do an amazing job at developer experience. Fox wrote Google’s “Developer Support Handbook” after four years as the go-between for the API developers and engineers for the Maps and Wave APIs. She notes that the experience starts with signing up (though preferably you don’t even have to), and that the more enjoyable it is, the more you’ll see innovative usage and external evangelism by developers.
That evangelism wasn’t hard to come by at Dreamforce. “Everything you see here? It’s all about people building on their APIs,” said Musser, gesturing toward the first-ever developer pavilion at the September 2012 conference put on annually by Salesforce. Musser’s company is a “Yellow Pages,” as he called it, of every API released since 2008, and he had just given a talk describing key API strategy moves.
“This whole building’s worth of stuff is about people using their APIs to build their creations,” he said, pointing to booths from telephony provider Twilio and cloud-based file sharing software company Box, among others. “Every SaaS service worth its salt has them, because APIs are the glue of SaaS. You don’t want to be an island.”
But are citizen developers using them? “Citizen developers? For the majority of APIs, no. What we are seeing is more and more companies consuming a greater number of APIs per company — four, 10 or 12 third-party services. The Salesforce API over here, the Google Map API here,” said Musser.
“On a technical level, I don’t see it happening much,” said Jeremy Glassenberg, platform manager for Box. “I’ve seen tools to reduce the amount of code you have to write, and connector tools, but you’re still expected to write your own code. We’ll see more dev tools to let developers code faster or get more code done, and maybe IFTTT [If This Then That] will gain traction, but I don’t think we’re at a point where consumers are coding.”
Salesforce’s original raison d’être was data-driven CRM applications, often built outside of IT. But the emphasis on developers at the conference made it clear that Force.com is going to be a powerful platform for mash-ups, and that developers are more eager to create and consume APIs than ever.
Salesforce dominated the API news at its own conference, especially around tooling, touch, social and mobile. The new tooling API generated excitement among developers yearning to translate the full IDE experience to Force.com. It joins a raft of existing APIs for Force.com: the SOAP Web Services API, the easier-to-use REST API, the Bulk API for manipulating data, the Metadata API, the Streaming API, the RESTful Apex API, and the Chatter API. Finally, Salesforce Identity was announced as an approach to letting enterprise apps access user context, interact with the social graph and eliminate siloed apps in the enterprise.