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Developers' New Opportunity — Retailers' Open APIs 45

snydeq writes "Fatal Exception's Neil McAllister examines the recent trend among retailers to provide outside developers access to open APIs — one that promises opportunity for developers to transform retailer data transparency into lucrative business models. But whether the trend lives up to its potential remains to be seen, especially given the hurdles small and midsize businesses face launching programs similar to those in place at Amazon, Zappos, and Sears. McAllister writes, 'There's a definite "Field of Dreams" quality to any such undertaking. Ask any company that hosts an open source software project how many outsiders actually commit code changes on a regular basis and you're likely to hear a discouraging figure. Similarly, just because a retailer builds an API doesn't mean anyone will actually use it. Given the uncertain prospects of return, it can be difficult to justify such an investment.'"
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Developers' New Opportunity — Retailers' Open APIs

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  • Is it just me? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @03:08PM (#32605492) Homepage Journal

    I'm not sure what kind of applications they expect outside developers to create using these APIs. Is it just me?

  • by NevarMore ( 248971 ) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @03:18PM (#32605612) Homepage Journal

    Isn't ecommerce pretty well standardized these days?

    You search for an item, you have categories and subcategories, tags, a price listing, related items, and shipping info. Why isn't there a standard RetailML API for this?

  • Re:Is it just me? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Michael Kristopeit ( 1751814 ) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @03:21PM (#32605642)
    if they sell stuff, they expect you to sell their stuff to your audience.... presumably for a cut of the profit.
  • Re:How long? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @05:41PM (#32607152) Homepage Journal

    There's always the question, how long the APIs will remain open. They can disappear any time at the retailers wish and you're stuck with your development effort. I'd be wary.


    McAllister writes:

    Ask any company that hosts an open source software project how many outsiders actually commit code changes on a regular basis and you're likely to hear a discouraging figure.

    His conclusion is that low uptake makes opening APIs a high risk activity. That's as may be, but isn't it equally possible that these organisations aren't successful because they're doing it wrong?

    Unless I have some kind of moral ownership stake in the project (such as I might have if I maintained a GPLed Linux software package, for example) what incentive to I have to invest my time? I understand the reasons for it, but many large businesses today are notoriously unreliable when it comes to strategy. Driven as they are by quarterly returns and subject to the whim of an increasingly sociopathic class of managers driven by MBA culture to abstract all decisions into monetary terms, why in the hell should I, the lowly FOSS developer, want to hitch my wagon to their star?

    (More accurately, they're asking me to hitch my horse to their wagon, without giving me any say on the destination or even the route.)

    There are a few organisations who really get how community relations and management work, but they are a tiny minority. The overwhelming majority baulk when they come to the realisation that FOSS means sharing ownership and control.

    None of this is news to anyone here at slashdot. What gets me riled up about this article is that someone who should know better spends his time chiding FOSS for being inappropriate to business status quo instead of explaining to business how they've got to adapt to a new set of circumstances.

    But the reason McAllister doesn't want to say that is because he's holding out for a new set of actors in the online world: Middlemen who build out standardised (but presumably proprietary) API and data management services for small and medium businesses so they can keep up with the Amazons and Tescos of the world without having to build their own data infrastructure.

    McAllister is, in other words, trying to reinvent the distributor in an environment that was invented precisely to remove the need for intermediaries. My only response is to apply an aphorism from another age of commercially appropriated social phenomena: 'You've come a long way, baby. []'

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein