A conversation about an API

There has been a lot of interesting discussion around my posts last week about the new Vista sidebar gadget and XML feed and follow-up about why Trade Me doesn’t have an API.

Thanks to everybody who has contributed. Be assured that your comments have been widely read here at Trade Me.

If you didn’t already feel free to add your 10c worth.

A couple of things that are worth following up …

Firstly, people have been busy building wadgets of various persuasions and I promised to provide some links:

I’d be interested to hear from anybody who is using any of these? Are you finding them useful?

There are a few others I’m aware of which are still “under development”, including an OS X widget which Ben and the guys at DNA are throwing together. I’ll post more links here as they come to my attention.

If you’d like to build something but need some inspiration, check out the recently released eBay companion for Firefox. A browser add-on which lets people track their listings in the sidebar of the browser like this would be wicked.

Secondly, a few of the comments I received warrant a response:

“I think it’s a bit rich to say that you don’t want other people to build things you might eventually build yourselves. I’d be more inclined to accept that argument if you were likely to get to new features. And, don’t forget, while you sit worrying about what you *might* do at *some* point in the future, your users don’t have the features.”
Nat Torkington

Fair point. We’ve been threatening to build our own listing tool for a few years now without much to show for it. In the meantime people behind tools like Auctionitis have got on with actually building something, which has proved to be a much more effective strategy!

“A cynic might say that the real reason you don’t have an API is because you already own the sector.”

Nat Torkington (again)

Ouch. Nobody is that cynical are they Nat?

It’s true that “want to” and “need to” are two different things. But, I think this comes back to my point about having bigger fish to fry. Whenever we decided to invest time in some new functionality we are, at the same time, deciding to not invest time in something else. For each thing we do there is a long (infinite?) list of things we don’t do.

Of course there is also an argument to say that an API would help to alleviate this by letting others fry the smaller fish we don’t have time for. It’s unlikely, for example, that we would have ever prioritised the various tools that have already been built on top of the XML feed (see above) but some people are obviously finding those useful, which is all good.

“I think that lots of NZ websites are afraid to offer feeds as they believe that this will stop people from visiting the main site. Those that do offer feeds, don’t provide full-text feeds, for that same reason. The idea is that if you offer a partial text feed it will encourage users to click through and visit the main site, but this has been proven to be untrue.”


I agree it would be great if we could provide more RSS feeds. The “My Favourites” page would be the obvious place to start and new listings within the “$1 reserve” page would be a close second.

The reason why this hasn’t been done has nothing to do with wanting to drive additional traffic to our site. We have lots of traffic already. If anything, would probably appreciate taking some heat off our listing servers. RSS feeds, which are smaller than HTML pages and more easily cached would only help with this.

“Any of us could (and some have) easily talk through the issues raised in Rowan’s blog and come up with solutions to the objections regarding versions, support, development time etc etc.

But I believe it falls into the above category because the underlying issue is simply one of trust.

Do they trust us, the people out here, to build things that will increase their value instead of subverting it.

If you’re basically inclined to trust people, then you’re going to be able to invent a million reasons why giving them a means to add value to your business by building their own is going to work.

If you’re basically inclined to distrust people (at least in this context), you will be able to discover a million reasons why it could all go horribly wrong.”

— Richard Clark, in the NZ 2.0 Google Group

I agree with the first part. I’m sure we could find solutions to all of the road blocks I listed.

But, I think it’s a bit unfair to say that reason we haven’t done this yet is because we don’t trust people. Our whole business is built on the premise that most people are trustworthy. Everyday thousands of Trade Me members send money to people they have never met for goods they have never seen. That requires a lot of trust!

“Do you know of any other NZ web companies apart from ZoomIn that are aiming at consumers and have released APIs?”
Peter Griffin, via email

A good question? I can’t think of any. How about you?

This is something we’ve been talking about internally for a while, so it’s really interesting to get a broader perspective.

Thanks again for being part of the conversation

10 thoughts on “A conversation about an API”

  1. Well thank you for this nice read and the ping-back to my eBay review!

    Watch out for the next review. It is about an extension I wanted to see a long time in Firefox…

  2. Hi Rowan, there are 3 key reasons why TM needs an API

    1) Evolve or Die — you are seriously limiting your rate of innovation, by effectively constraining your backend dev to an inhouse team only, and while you focus at the front end only your base business is vulnerable

    2) One idea does not a business make – you don’t know what you don’t know, until there are many more eyes and brains offering solutions you don’t get to cherry pick for the new opportunities.

    3)Risk is bad = serious businesses will limit their trading, although TM does have a robust front end, and I have a robust backend it is joined by a dodgey bit of electric string brokered via auctionitis…which in turn violates TM’s T&C’s… double yuk

    thats it.

    p.s. Lances analogy/stats with ebay are spurious, clearly ebay’s poor stats can be attributed to not hosting their servers in NZ… ref. church of the flying spaghetti monster http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:FSM_Pirates.jpg

  3. I run a business on TM and am a large seller (8000+ feedback). I’m wanting to add a voice asking (begging) for an API. We are wasting time and money having to do tasks manually when they could be done with some software.

    As to when to update developers on changes, well just doing that when they happen would be nice for a start! At the moment if TM changes something theres usually some time before I see something isn’t working with TM, then I have to work out wether it is the software or some new TM update. And then I have to inform the developer and wait for the fix, all the while getting pissed off at TM.

    So come on, get an API up and help out the people who are paying you your revenues.

  4. Hi Rowan,

    The Auckland Web Meetup has 260 members with 120 attending the last monthly meetup. We talk about a lot of new technogies and last month was no different. Next month we are going to talk about creating and consuming web API’s (or mashups), but the point I want to make is that our next meeting is going to be really exciting. There are some amazing API’s out there like Facebook, Amazon S3, Google, Google Maps etc etc.

    My point is that if you build it, will they come? My argument is that there are so many more tools now available other than Java and .net. At the meetup I am pushing the Adobe AIR platform that allows just about every single member of the group to create Rich Desktop applications using their existing skill set of HTML, Javascript and/or Flex. Adobe AIR looks extremely exciting and that excitement I intend to spread to the members of our group in the next month (since I run the thing). I have also had huge success with developing for API’s using the AIR framework with Adobe profiling my software in the AIR showcase and Computer World article page 3 (and a little tiny photo on the cover) all in about 4 weeks from staring on AIR.

    It would be really exciting stuff if you did launch this and I would love to talk about your shiny new (or up and coming) API at our next meetup which will easily have another 120 web developers hungry for more tools.


    It wont surprise me if you competition doesn’t start this soon either, I have been making a lot of noise about this up here and I am getting a lot of great feedback so far.


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