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The perfect API

Asset exposure is a hot topic in the telecom industry. Everybody is talking about opening up telecom assets for others to create new services. However I haven´t seen any successful asset exposure by the established operators yet. Why is this? Let´s look at the four major European players.

Vodafone calls network asset APIs,” enablers” and is offering mobile payment and location services. More is announced. Then again there is also betavine, oneapi and vodafone network apis. And we are not talking yet about widgets and mashups.

Telefonica has the movilforum, O2 litmus and the movistar developers platform.  A list of separate APIs is available with exotic names like “Manage Post Pay Bolt On’s API”.

“Orange developer” gets you in Google to all you need to develop. Unlike Vodafone and Telefonica.  A long list of APIs is available, including the personal profile api and the personal richprofile api.

“T-Mobile developer” also worked. Unfortunately there was no information for network assets API only mobile apps development.

There is one red line in this short test: “being a telecom developer is a hard job”.

Finding the sites with development information is hard. You would think that “operatorname +developer” should be enough to Google you there.

Understanding which API to take is even harder.  I don´t want to imagine writing an application with the APIs.

It is clear that European telecom operators would like to have an active developers community but they would need to understand some basic principles:

  • out of sight, out of mind
  • 80-20
  • simplificationality
  • eat your own dog food
  • make one millionaire
  • collective
  • compete against the dots

Out of sight, out of mind

If I can´t find your API in the first 5 Google items when I look for developer and your company name, then I will probably never write an application for you. SEO, search engine optimization, is the first mandatory step when a developer portal is launched. Your portal can be the best in the world but if I can´t find it then I can´t use it.


80% and even 95% of all applications only need 10% to 20% of the functionality. The telecom industry has made a habit of “over-standardizing” APIs. A simple example: sending an SMS. What does an application developer wants to do in 95% of the cases? Send “text A” to “number B”. Only 5% of the applications need a receipt that you actually read the SMS. Even below 0,01% would like the operator logo, the internal port for message delivery in the device, etc. to be available. So the trick is to have a very basic high-level API and if required a more detailed low-level API.


Why use “simplificationality” if you can use “simple”? Developers want to keep things simple. Programming is already hard enough. Standards bodies in the IT industry have designed the XML and SOAP standard to share unstructured data between as many systems as possible. Developers are neglecting both and are migrating to JSON and REST. A JSON document is a lot shorter and holds the same info. A REST API you can call from the command line. There is an interesting startup that has taken this simple principal and applied it correctly:

Eat your own dog food

A lot of startups are using the slogan: “eat your own dog food”. If you create something for others to use, then the first user should be you. Amazon created their web services stack for internal use and afterwards opened it up to the world. Until your services are not written with your API, then you should not open it up for others. After writing some services with your own API, you can be sure that it is fully functional, well documented and no longer has awkward glitches.

Make one millionaire

The economy is moved by the invisible hand which in human language means: “people are selfish”. I am prepared to suffer and write an application with your API as long as I have a change to become an overnight millionaire. Apple´s App Store has made for sure somebody a millionaire. As soon as there is one, there will be a million others trying. Make sure you share your revenue is based on the value contribution (Apple sells => 30%, developers invents and writes => 70%). If people feel they have an honest chance of becoming rich, then they will go the extra mile.


99.99% of all the apps that developers will write with your APIs will be rubbish.  However as long as users are able to easily find the other 0.01%, the operator will make money will all 100%. For users to be able to find a needle in a haystack, you need collective intelligence. People need to be able to benefit from viral marketing, recommendation engines, top 25, etc. in order for them not to have to waste their time. Early adopters will try out the bulk of the apps but they are only a minority. The rest of the mortals need to be helped. If I am looking for the coolest game, then it should be first in the list of games.  Apps needs to be automatically clustered, categorized, recommended, etc.

Compete against the dots

An operator´s competition for asset exposure is not your-next-door-operator but a dotcom that offers a way around your assets. For years operators sat on their location assets without exploiting them. Google came and wiped most of the value out with its Latitude, Maps and Goggles. Copy the dotcom technology and ways of doing things.

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  1. September 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm

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