Share More Than Data, Share Ideas

If you follow Y Combinator, you’ve probably seen their Requests for Startups page. It tells entrepreneurs about underrepresented industries that they are specifically looking for companies to apply in. They’re sharing their own ideas to inspire people to bring them into the world via YC.

API providers should consider creating a similar page within their docs. The reason is simple: you took the time to create this API, you know it better than anyone else, and you probably already have many ideas on the best ways to use it. Since you’re creating an API, you’re clearly into sharing. Why share only data, and not ideas too? Just because you don’t have time to make them doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist!

A new API can seem overwhelming. There’s a bunch of endpoints and users don’t know how to use them. Sometimes this can scare users away. While some users come to your docs for your already great brand, others are there for a functionality or in search of new projects. If sharing your ideas sparks interest, then you’ve won over a user. Even if no one builds your ideas, users see that you’ve designed an API that has big potential benefits and is easy to use. With just one page, you’ve made your API so welcoming it already feels like home. You’re one step closer to a thriving developer community.

Really want to see your ideas come to life? Offer to help or share a portion of a project you’ve already started! If you really, really want it, offer rewards!

We’ve been brainstorming some ideas for our (not yet existent API):

  1. Import things to ReadMe (we know, this is what we all wish existed)
  2. Easier back-ups
  3. Language translation

Some ideas we might have if we were Uber and actually had an API:

  1. Uber for the elderly. Traditionally elderly people miss out on opportunities to leave their homes because no one is free to drive them around. No more. Uber could easily be brought to the elderly by calling a car for your loved one or creating something manual that automatically calls a car to their home.
  2. Uber for medicine. Have a doctors appointment you need to be picked up from? Don’t worry about forcing your friend to drive you around in those big glasses. Let your doctor call an Uber to be ready at the door.
  3. Uber for pets. Pet-friendly Ubers already carry around puppies once every few months. Have them bring your dog to the vet while they’re at it.

If we were Slack, we could save our tweetstorm and just make a ReadMe page for easier access:

Another way to inspire new users is to show projects that have already been completed. Uber already does this, with a cool page called Showcase.

These are just a few simple ideas to welcome new users to your site. Having a potential ideas or showcase page demonstrates that your API is easy to use. It says, “Look, if these people can do it, why not you?”.

Even if you don’t want to make a page… the act of thinking of use cases is important practice. Brainstorming ideas will show you how wide an audience your API might have. This will force you to keep it flexible (or at least useful). Feel free to get creative. If your API only does what your site already does, there’s really no reason to use it. It’s also a way to self-check that you are spending your resources well. If you can’t think of at least four to five use cases, it’s possible you don’t actually need an API, even though we’ll be terribly sad to lose you.

Huge thanks to Gordon Winthrob, who got us thinking about this! You should subscribe to his API-centric newsletter, GET PUT POST!

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