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Developers have arguably never had it better. A big reason for that: there are virtually countless APIs that enable developers to build really cool applications on top of foundations that someone else invested in laying down.

When it comes to APIs, however, a lot of attention is focused on popular services that have created platforms that developers can tap in to. Facebook and Twitter are two of the most prominent, and many developers have cashed in developing on their platforms.

While there's nothing wrong building Facebook games or Twitter-based applications, some of the most useful and promising APIs out there have nothing to do with building apps for someone else's platform.

Instead, they allow developers to create useful and entertaining offerings without having to spend time building the most complicated low-level features. Here are five of these APIs developers should know about.

Zencoder

Video is an important part of the web, and it's only getting more important. For developers, dealing with video can be challenging because there are a variety of file formats and codecs. Fortunately, third party services like Zencoder make dealing with video a breeze. Using Zencoder's API, it's easy to build applications that accept and use user-supplied video.

Twilio

Contrary to popular belief, the phone is far from dead. And there are plenty of opportunities to integrate the phone with web applications. With Twilio's API, it is possible to build applications that interact with users over the phone. Currently available in the United States and Canada, Twilio also has an API for building applications that interact with users through SMS messages.

Saplo

Text might seem boring, but there's an awful lot of it on the internet. And a lot of that text contains valuable information and insight. Saplo offers a text analysis API that can be used for everything from tagging to sentiment analysis.

Adaptive Payments

PayPal's Adaptive Payments API gives developers the ability to build a wide range of payment functionality into their applications. Nifty features include chained and split payments, as well as the ability for customers to preapprove future payments.

SimpleGeo

Standalone consumer-facing location-based services are all the rage right now, but in the future, there's a good chance that lots of services will incorporate location in some fashion to create better and more relevant user experiences.

SimpleGeo offers APIs that help developers build location-aware applications without having to reinvent the wheel when it comes to determining where users are located and what's around them.

Photo credit: @boetter via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 10 December, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2377 more posts from this author

Comments (17)

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SystemProggie

Gee, wouldn't it be great if the article title called out that these were web APIs? I mean, after all, not everyone builds web apps (yes, I know, it's a dirty little secret that nobody likes to talk about, like that *special* family member we all have).

Just sayin'.

over 5 years ago

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Herman

Thank for sharing! SimpleGeo looks great, gonna give it a try

over 5 years ago

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Peter Whittaker

Why twilio and not tropo?

Readers are done a disservice by introducing an API in vacuo, without context, with comparison with other comparable services, especially when the mentioned API is a actually a commercial service.

As noted in another comment, these are web APIs; as long as we're close to the subject, why not mention jQuery? Now *that's* an important API.

over 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Peter,

Contrary to popular belief, I am not a walking encyclopedia of APIs. I wasn't familiar with Tropo. It certainly seems like it'd be worth looking at further.

Finally, jQuery is a JavaScript library, not simply an API. I love jQuery, but the APIs listed here are all commercial APIs that provide functionality that would almost always implemented server-side.

over 5 years ago

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cancel bubble

Yahoo's YQL is a nice one. http://developer.yahoo.com/yql/

over 5 years ago

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Get Proposals

Great List, Probably not listed because of their popularity, but the Google * apis, are sure worth looking into. Twilio is the best api mentioned in this list. For a few bucks a month, you can have your home office sound like Huge business =) Tropo might be interesting, but it only does a part of what twilio does. I love apis, you can get a full coverage at http://www.programmableweb.com.

Side note ... If I post a preview and fill the captcha, you can assume I will still be human when I decide to post my comment ;)

over 5 years ago

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Scarlett

Nice, I'd like to learn about every one listed in it. And I'll try to choose one suitable for me.

over 5 years ago

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Embedded Programmer

Is it possible to update the title to indicate this is for Web apps? I wouldn't have clicked on it if I'd have known! Cheers

over 5 years ago

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file rename

Very useful list, thanks for sharing!  Going to try some of them out.

over 5 years ago

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matt

Good thing you wrote an article about APIs then when someone commented about some missed APIs, you complained about not being an API expert. The lowest common denominator of journalism can be found in web journalism.

over 5 years ago

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bg5h67890

Thats not API, that's internet. Troll harder.

over 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

matt,

I'm not sure how you read "I am not a walking encyclopedia of APIs" to mean "I know nothing about APIs", but as you probably know, there are literally thousands upon thousands of APIs and I've yet to meet someone who knows about all of them.

By the way: the title of this post is "Five APIs that developers should know about", not "Six APIs that developers should know about", or "The world's most comprehensive list of APIs."

over 5 years ago

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Tiklu Ganguly

Cool. Those are some really interesting APIs. just love it

over 5 years ago

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Gary Bury, Managing Director at mediaburst

Interesting article but out of interest, why did you choose Twilio. I don't mean this as disrespect to them but we, along with many others, have been doing the same stuff on our SMS API www.mediaburst.co.uk/api for 10 years and without the limitation to just USA and Canada. There are services like Zeepmobile in the USA that provide similar completely free. Twilio seems like an odd choice?

over 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Gary,

I was familiar with Twilio because a friend of mine is a developer who built a pretty cool system for a client in the US using Twilio's OpenVBX.

By the way, Twilio's SMS API isn't really all that interesting. I mentioned the SMS API in passing; it's the API for voice services that is worth noting. From what I can tell, your company and Zeepmobile offer APIs for working with SMS, not voice.

By the way, a commenter above mentioned Tropo, which I wasn't familiar with. It looks pretty nifty too, as it has voice, SMS, IM and greater international availability.

over 5 years ago

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Mark "Chief Alchemist" Simchock

Nice list. These all look to be very inspiring. Thanks!

That said, I'd like to add, I have had mixed experiences with trying to capitalize on APIs. For example, Ping.fm put their API on lock down and didn't give any sort of warning. Now I have an app (i.e., kick ass WordPress plug-in) and can't get any public keys for it. As a result of that gaff, I did some more searching and found HelloTxt.com and PixelPipe.com. Both a similar to Ping.fm. I have applied for dev access/keys for both and have yet to hear a peep back from either of them. Why say you have an API then?

I don't mean to get off topic, nor do I mean to vent. My point is, an API is only good if it works. That might be stating the obviously, but for those of us who are new to APIs it's worth mentioning that ultimately you are going to be at someone else's mercy. That may or may not be a viable position to be in for the biz model you're building. But if you're betting the farm, it probably best not to bet it on the availability and stability of someone else's API. At the very least be sure to have a Plan B, and maybe even Plan C.

over 5 years ago

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Mitch M

Noticed that saplo seems to be closed at the moment, I was looking for a text contextual analysis API for an app I am developing and was bummed Saplo was closed, however I found another API (AlchemyAPI) that does the job and so far is very good and very easy to use, check it out (http://www.alchemyapi.com/)

over 5 years ago

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