Effective communication is a critical factor for API adoption. Since APIs do not have a user interface, your documentation is the primary method for communicating with developers on how to use your API. Your API documentation is your API’s user interface.
A developer portal helps bring together the different styles of communication that you need to ensure that APIs can be found, speak to the benefits of using your API, and guide developers on how to integrate your API.
The Value of API Documentation
API documentation is the primary communication medium between the API provider and consumer. Unless the API is open-source, you will likely never see the source code behind it. Therefore, the only thing that developers consuming your API have is your documentation. Without clear and complete documentation, developers will struggle to use your API.
We use the term API documentation as if there is only one kind of documentation. Yes, you need to deliver a great API reference for developers. Tools such as Swagger, RAML, and Blueprint are just a few of the formats available to help build them. However, complete API documentation requires more than just your API reference in HTML or PDF form. It requires having a developer portal that pulls together everything that they will need to be successful.
What Makes a Great Developer Portal?
Every great developer portal includes the following content.
Features and Discovery
Provides an overview of the API, addressing concerns such as benefits, capabilities, and pricing of your API to qualify prospects.
Case Studies and Examples
Case studies highlight applications that have been built using your API.
Provides a reference for each API endpoint to developers, including details on the URL, HTTP verb(s) supported, response codes, and data formats. This is where Swagger, RAML, and Blueprint formats are used to generate documentation from an API definition.
Guides and Concepts
As an API consumer, the most difficult part of using an API is the initial learning curve. Guides offer help with learning an API’s concepts and vocabulary during this critical stage.
Problem and Resolution
Documentation can help developers troubleshoot error response codes and ease the burden on your developers and support staff.
Shows what has been added or improved recently, helping developers to find new ways to use your API.
Going Beyond Content
Beyond content, developer portals should include the following disciplines:
APIs rarely gain adoption if you make it difficult to get started. Easy onboarding, from self-registration to a guided tour will help developers overcome the challenges to adopting a new API.
Is your API available or temporarily down? A simple status page that reflects your API’s availability will help to inform developers and operations staff that see increased errors in their applications.
Including a chat solution, whether embedded into your developer portal or through communication platforms such as Slack will help provide direct access to those that can help resolve integration