Google is not your daddy (or long term reliance on APIs is as bad as outsourcing)

At the near top of Hacker News is a post to the deprecation of Google APIs which the poster labeled ”Why should anyone ever use a Google API again?” I’ll tell you why.

We live in an incredibly exciting time. The proliferation of APIs allows you to build amazingly powerful mash-up businesses in weeks. There has never been a better time to build new businesses than now. Part of this is due to the powerful technology stacks out there, like Ruby on Rails or, but APIs provide something equally important to new startups: data, which is valuable to users.

And, reliance only on these APIs is not a long term strategy for a business. If you do build a business this way, and you don’t get volcanic adoption of your idea (enabling you to lock out competitors), competitors will come and build the same thing. You had better be always thinking about the next step while building the step right now.

It reminded me of a session at Google I/O called ”How to Get Your Startup Idea Funded by Venture Capitalists.” The topic of outsourcing came up (about 42 minutes in). The response from Paul Bucheit was right on the mark where he basically said “If you are a technical company using outsourcing you are outsourcing your core competency.” The same holds true when building a business which uses APIs. You need to use this as a stepping stone to create relationships with users, which means, you need to use this as a stepping stone to creating value. And, then you need to consider how you can own that value, which means migrating more and more of that technology internally to your company.

Google has to build products and services which generate value for all people involved, and that test will be how they decide to which things they will allocate resources. Google AdWords is a perfect example: everyone using it gets value (customers get connected to what they want, vendors get access to people searching for something, and Google make a tiny fee off those happy transactions). I have a hard time understanding how the Google Translate API would ever generate value for anyone other than the consumer of the API and Google probably figured out that too. That is why they are shutting it down. They are a for profit company, not your daddy.