Big Data At SXSW: The API Is The New Hot ‘App’

After attending SXSW Interactive for the past two years, I’ve noticed the industry seems to be shifting away from the Age of the Apps to the Dawn of Data. Rather than focusing on that next killer application, it appears that more people are trying to tap into the data that is being gathered to create the next big thing—and companies are actively encouraging developers to do so.

The Mashery, an entire room on the ground floor of the Austin Convention Center, is devoted to link up developers with companies that have exposed their API. Companies such as MapMyFitness, Edmunds and Beats Music are all looking for developers to tap into their data and platforms to create new value for the end user.

“We think that the value proposition now is in the data and the consumers of the data,” David Carr, Senior Product Manager for Platform at MapMyFitness, said. “Being able to share that around with our partners and letting them create value on top of our platform creates value for the consumers and for the partners. Everyone profits from that ecosystem.”

This data revolution is not lost on television ratings giant Nielsen, which announced at a rooftop party last night that it would be opening up its viewer data to developers. Given the treasure trove of this information and the evolution of the connected TV, it will be interesting to watch what happens in this space. You know a revolution is happening when a data collection service with the pedigree of Nielsen opens up their data to developers.

Data Versus Information

Companies are pushing to get programmers to consume their API because data alone is not valuable. Rather, the value is derived by what a person does with that data to create actionable intelligence.

“We have to distinguish between data and information,” Ben Alamar, Professor of Sports Management at Menlo College, said in a panel entitled The Future of Sports Can Be Found in the Data. “Raw data by itself is just rows and rows in a spreadsheet, and nobody can get anything useful. But when we take that raw data and visualize it, summarize it and analyze it… then we have information.”

Consider all the data that the National Weather Service collects around the clock. There is most certainly a database with rows and rows of information. If a meteorologist were to show that much data on the screen viewers wouldn’t know what to do with it. Instead, we get something actionable on our screen: the temperature and chance of rain. Giving data access to developers enables them to find the best way to apply it to create information.

As Steve Haro, Director of Marketing at Boeing, said during the Nano Size Me panel, “If you don’t have clear objectives, and you don’t understand what you are trying to achieve, then it is just data.”

Data as a Profit Center

The relationship between those that provide data APIs and those that consume them is symbiotic. Many companies are sitting on valuable data that results from consumer usage of their services or pure observation. Often, these companies may not have the resources to do anything with this information.

Opening up the firehose of data to developers can result in new applications and products consuming their API, which can in turn make their service more valuable to the end user. The company also stands to make a decent profit by access to the data. Developers are often initially given a small level of access—or API calls—for free. This helps the developer create and test a minimally viable product without having to pay for data access. However, if the service or application were to take off, there is often a charge as there is an increased demand for that data.

Data, Data Everywhere

The Universe of Big Data is expanding at a mind-boggling rate. Furthermore, with the increased access of smartphones and wearable computing, consumers will be generating a significant amount of Little Data in the coming years. This massive quantity of data that is accessible for developers to interpret is resulting in new and exciting information for us to act on. While that information may be presented in the form of an app, make no mistake, the API is now king.

Garrett Heath develops content and supports customers on the Rackspace Social Media team. His previous experience includes technical project management in the cloud, content marketing and social media marketing. He enjoys writing about how the cloud is spurring innovation and telling stories about the people behind the tech. You can also read his work at In his free time, Garrett writes about food and local San Antonio culture at SA Flavor.


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