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While traveling over the last couple weeks, I put more thought into the upcoming changes to the Netflix API. As I pointed out in my earlier post, I understand the tension between API owners and API consumers, so in my analysis I want to consider the big picture before I blogged about it.

To summarize, Netflix recently made some announcements about upcoming API and terms of service changes, and immediately there was backlash from the developer community, where goodfil.ms felt Netflix was quietly smothering their 3rd party app ecosystem, and Techcrunch stepped in, stating that there much ado about nothing behind the Netflix’s API Changes.

I feel the Netflix changes are a great example of the different viewpoints between API owners and API consumers. From the consumer side the API and TOS changes look huge, because they may (or may not) impact your apps and business severely. I’m sure there will be some major casualties from the changes, and this is not to be taken lightly.

However, from the API owner side, you see a much bigger picture, and these changes look much, much smaller. It’s no secret that the Netflix public API isn’t where the success is. It’s been a year since I wrote about lessons learned from the Netflix API, where I wrote:

Even with over 18K public developers using the API, it accounts for less than .5% of the traffic to the API. With internal teams and external device manufacturers accounting for the largest consumption.

First, I love it when I can quote my own work a year later. Second, 18K public developers accounting for less than .5% of the traffic. If you want to understand the scope of what Netflix is dealing with internally and with partners, do the math. If Netflix doesn’t protect users data as Techcrunch states, or keep everything else humming along, I think they are going to be in a little more hot water than upsetting even a couple thousand developers in their ecosystem.

Again, I don’t think you can just dismiss the companies who are depending on the Netflix public APIs, but everyone understands there is risk when building your company on free, public APIs. I think its totally valid for developers to cry foul, but these are the realities of the API economy we find ourselves in.

While I think Netflix could have put more energy into its public API, I can’t help but think maybe this is one industry where a public API is not the success story, that to move forward a big dinosaur like the movie industry, we should accept that being able to stream your movies online, via hundreds of different devices using privately controlled APIs is a big enough step forward--for now.




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