Apigee Tests and Teaches Facebook APIs

By Josh Constine Comment

Facebook APIs allow developers to build products which utilize the site’s staggering amount of data. However, official support and instructions for use are sparse. Here we examine a product that aims to make APIs more accessible: Sonoa Systems’ Apigee.

Apigee’s goal is to make APIs easier to use for developers. It provides a free browser-based API testing, monitoring, and analytics system, serving as an intermediary between an API platform and the user’s code. The Apigee user base has quickly grown to more than 4,000 developers, the company says, since it released a public beta of their Facebook console in mid April, joining its existing Twitter console. It is now working to foster a community where developers can learn from each other.

The product was created by Sonoa Systems, a 65-employee company with 55 engineers (10 working on the Facebook team), run on $40 million in funding from Bay Partners, Third Point Management Partners, Norwest Venture Partners, Juniper Networks and SAP Ventures. Its business model centers on the 1-2% of their users who pay an average of $75,000 a year for custom enterprise API design and management. It handles HTML through JSON APIs for email marketers like Constant Contact, media producers like MTV Networks, financial institutions like ING, and operates projects like Netflix’s streaming to Xbox service. The company sees retail moving from e-commerce to A(PI)-commerce with physical purchases being made through apps, and it is positioning itself to facilitate this change.

The core of the Apigee product is the API testing console. Here developers can choose from a list of the API’s methods, punch in a user or object ID, hit “Test” and watch how the API is called. If you want to call something that requires authentication, you can log in to Facebook from the console and test private data pulls or publishing. Apigee’s “Awesome Bar” brings up all matching methods when you start to type in a keyword. If you’re ever confused, you can hit the “Share” button to get a permalink to an active console showing exactly what you did. Other developers can then correct or explain the problem, and send the console back to you.

The Apigee debugger runs as an intermediary layer between code and API, letting you analyze your code as it runs, monitoring traffic and identifying bugs. You can filter traffic results to just errors or by a parameter to quickly determine if a set of 100 failed calls are kinks from 100,000 calls, or if they’re sequential and likely a hacking attempt.

Apigee’s analytics engine provides much needed data that helps developers determine how people are using their apps. Charts and graphs show response times, data transfer details, and which methods are requested or experience errors the most. Data can be sliced by user, method, and time span, while a map displays users’ geographic locations. This information allows devs to prioritize their focus and improve their apps and code. Users can also establish and monitor API request rate limits, and set explanatory messages to be sent to users when they approach their limit. These policies block or slow down requests so Apigee can gracefully degrade service to protect APIs from crashing due to traffic spikes or misuse.

Apigee’s enterprise solutions range from $2,000-$8,500 a month for services including API cacheing, custom policy development, blocking risky users, and handling huge quantities of traffic. Apigee’s data can also be integrated into larger analytics platforms. The Apigee team often creates features for paying customers like IP address rate limiting, then later adds them to the free product.

Sam Ramji, Vice President of Strategy at Sonoa Systems, tells us that the API industry is healthy and growing. He believes this is in part due to a move away from SOAP APIs, which has caused “a collapse of the barriers to entry for using APIs.” He says a simplification of the terms of service and data ownership would embolden developers to enter the field. Ramji forsees a lucrative future where people use whichever interface makes purchasing goods easy and don’t care whose API finishes the transaction, even though that developer will get a cut. On his wish list from Facebook would be short-term, granular permissions that would encourage developers to explore authenticated API calls through Apigee with less privacy concerns.

Overall, Apigee could be a useful resource for Facebook developers just getting acquainted with APIs as well as for veterans looking for management and insight.