API portals: adapting to modern consumers
The concept of an API developer portal began to emerge as part of the expanding world of web APIs in the years between 2005 and 2010. By 2020, public API portals had become a default method for API producers to make their digital resources available to partners and third-party developers.
While the design and features of API portals may vary from one API producer to another, many common and standardized approaches to delivering API portal experiences have been established by leading API management and service providers over the past decade.
API portals continue to serve as a foundational component for most API producers. In this context, we would like to share our observations from the Postman API Platform, which serves a community of 25 million API developers, on the future trends and developments in the API developer portal space.
But before we dive in, let’s clear a few things up: What exactly is an API portal, how is an API portal different from an API marketplace, and why do people use an API portal?
What is an API portal?
API portals bridge the gap between API providers and consumers by providing information about an API throughout its lifecycle. Providers can use API portals to publicize their APIs, educate developers about their functionalities, grant user access, generate client keys, and more. Consumers, on the other hand, use API portals to understand how a given API can be used in their app.
API portal vs. API marketplace
An API portal is like a toolbox for developers who want to use a specific API. It provides them with tools and instructions they need to understand, test, and work with that particular API. In contrast, an API marketplace is more like a store where various APIs are displayed. Marketplaces allow organizations to showcase their APIs to potential customers, partners, and developers at scale.
Why use an API portal?
Over the past decade, the API portal has emerged as one of the most prominent features in the suite of services offered by API management and gateway providers. It serves as a central hub where API producers can engage with their consumers. While many core services provided by API management providers—such as security, traffic control, mediation, and transformation—are less visible and more abstract to customers, API portals, documentation, and other tangible elements of API operations are often bundled with these core offerings. This bundling strategy has led many enterprise organizations to associate API portals with comprehensive API management solutions.
API portals provide a unified platform for deploying APIs, publishing an API catalog, and providing supporting API documentation. This approach has been effective for enterprises managing a relatively small number of APIs—typically fewer than 100. However, as API producers grapple with the challenges of managing hundreds or even thousands of APIs, the limitations of this approach have become increasingly apparent.
Related: Is your API portal keeping up?
Our customer experience
As a key player in the API economy, Postman has a front-row seat to observe how our customers use the Postman API Platform in conjunction with their existing source control, gateway, and portal solutions. We’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse range of customers, each with unique approaches to integrating Postman into their API ecosystems. Here are three notable examples:
- Twitter: We worked with Twitter as they developed their public workspaces in the Postman Public API Network. Additionally, Twitter published “Run in Postman” buttons on each of the documentation pages for their APIs, making it easy for developers to interact with their APIs directly from the documentation.
- Salesforce: Salesforce demonstrates the power of integration by embedding links to public workspaces and Postman Collections in blogs, videos, and other resources published on their public developer portal. This approach has led to more than 100,000 forks of the Salesforce API collection, indicating strong engagement from the developer community.
- ShipEngine: ShipEngine offers a seamless experience between their developer portal and their collections. They provide reference collections that document all available APIs, as well as separate onboarding collections that only offer the information that consumers need to get started. This targeted approach simplifies the onboarding process for new users.
These three examples showcase the diverse range of experiences and integration strategies employed by our customers—and highlight the versatility and value of the Postman API Platform.
Our platform experience
Twitter, Salesforce, and ShipEngine’s approaches represent just a fraction of the innovative ways in which Postman customers are enhancing their developer portal experiences by utilizing the Postman API Network, public workspaces, and collections. In addition to these public-facing initiatives, Postman customers are employing a variety of creative approaches to leverage private and partner API networks and workspaces in support of their API operations.
Collections, APIs, and the workspaces in which they reside are being published to private networks as part of teams’ regular workflows—with no additional effort required. Moreover, in the past six months, Postman enterprise users have begun using Partner Workspaces to engage with external partners in a secure and trusted environment. These workspaces and collections are being used to shape and customize the experience for partners.
The flexibility and modularity of API networks, workspaces, and collections are providing the composable building blocks that enterprises need to architect distributed and federated API operations. These capabilities are essential for supporting the rapidly expanding digital supply chain in today’s dynamic business landscape.
The consumer experience
Today’s API operations are centered around meeting API consumers where they already are. The era of relying solely on a single API portal is fading, as API consumers expect to be reached through the channels they already use and to experience the value of APIs with minimal effort. The traditional practice of expecting API consumers to seek out resources through a single API portal is no longer sufficient to keep pace with the velocity of modern enterprise API operations. API consumers desire a frictionless time to first call and seek to realize value in their applications and integrations as quickly as possible.
While the ubiquitous API portal remains one avenue for API producers to engage with API consumers, it is increasingly important for API producers to also engage through blogs, videos, social media, messaging, and other channels that API consumers use in their daily work. A modern API consumer experience minimizes friction and accelerates time to first call, whether the journey begins within the enterprise API portal or elsewhere.
Establishing a single portal for API discovery is a logical objective, but it may not fully address the diverse needs of API consumers, especially as the number of APIs continues to grow exponentially. A modern API consumer experience extends beyond the traditional portal and documentation typically associated with API operations. It demands greater engagement, contextualization, and delivery of information in digestible and actionable units.
Related: Read our State of the API report
Postman networks, workspaces, and collections provide the composable building blocks that teams need to enhance the portal experience that enterprises are familiar with—while also enabling a more flexible and distributed approach to API developer portals. This approach can adapt to any scale and shape of operations. As you plan for the future, don’t let the constraints of a traditional API portal dictate your strategy. Instead, ensure you have the tools to create the API factory floor that prepares you for the evolving landscape of your industry.