So, big news today in the DTC genomics world was that 23andme has decided to publish an API. The blog announcement optimistically announces that there is “no monopoly on great ideas”and encourages developers to apply for access to write applications to the API.
I’ve gotten quite a few requests for my thoughts on the announcement.
I’m torn between wanting to praise 23andme and wanting to scream DANGER DANGER DANGER at the top of my lungs. So, I’m going to do both.
First, bravo. Publishing an API is smart business move for 23andme, and holds the potential to create a lot of genomics apps on the data they hold.
Second, DANGER. Publishing an API is a smart business move. Let me repeat that: it’s a business move. It’s not because they’re nice.
There is a very serious difference between “we’ve opened our API to you” and freedom. Developers must apply for permission to make applications. Developers must tell 23andme, before developing, what their apps will do. And there is nothing that prevents the strategic shrinking of an API, or the subtle or not so subtle pressure to turn off applications that compete with core business functions or revenues of 23andme. ‘
The fundamental problem is monetization. If you write an awesome app to a closed API, it makes good business sense to give you the Sopranos treatment. You make the app, it gets popular, you get the bust out.
Twitter started with a wide open API and is basically phasing it out. Sucks if you invested your time there. Or if you’re like Dalton Caldwell, being strongarmed by Facebook when his app competed with FB’s App Center.
So that’s the fundamental thing. Develop to a corporate API knowing full well that if you are successful, there’s a better chance that you wind up Scaltino and not Zuckerberg. And despite all the press that App.net is getting now, remember that social networks achieve network effects before they shut down functions in the API. And once a social network gets to that network effect, it’s very hard to build a competitor from the open.
Anyone out there use Diaspora? Didn’t think so.
Code carefully, my friends. And choose your monopolies wisely.