Alex Gaber

January 10th, 2013

Measuring Hackathon ROI for APIs

Hackathon ROII often get asked whether hackathons actually provide API publishers with any true, measurable return on investment (ROI). The simple answer is “yes” – and the positive benefits of hackathons are now undeniable.  However, the benefits can be a little hard to quantify, making ROI tricky to measure objectively.

For example, hackathons provide a fantastic way to grow developer awareness of your API as a brand in and of itself, separate from your core business. When the developers who attend your hackathon go back to their day jobs on Monday, they have added your API to their programming tool belts and will use it, when appropriate, in upcoming projects. Additionally, hackathons will attract the attention of thought leaders and influencers who will mention your API on blogs and forums, spreading the word further. These benefits can deliver considerable value but they can also be difficult to quickly quantify.

Nevertheless, API evangelists will be held accountable for demonstrating the real-world value of their hackathons. One way to do this is to show how hackathons enable your company to conduct developer user experience (DevUX) research at a minimal cost. Gathering feedback and data from hackathons provides the most cost-effective way to optimize the quality of your API as a product by answering questions like:

  • How user-friendly is my registration process?
  • Do my APIs ever return incorrect or unexpected results?
  • What new features should I add to future versions of my API?
  • Is the skill level of my API appropriate for long-tail app developers?
  • What kind of tutorials and other documentation will my developers need?
  • Which programming languages are my developers using to implement my APIs?
  • How useful is my API and what are the most common/innovative use cases for it?

The data and feedback you gather will also help you to further demonstrate ROI by providing the answers to questions such as:

  • How many developers registered and how many actually attended?
  • Did the hackathon appeal to the types of developer we want to attract?
  • Did any valuable or innovative apps get prototyped?

Hackathons offer a fantastic way to build excitement around your API and optimize the quality of your interface. If you still have any doubts, join us for a hackathon (and participate!) to see how other API platforms are doing it.

December 11th, 2012

Clarifying “Hybrid Mobile App”

Hybrid Mobile AppsTomorrow, I’ll be presenting a webinar called 5 Ways to Get Top Mobile App Developer Talent for Your Open APIs. Preparing for this webinar got me thinking about different types of mobile app and how they relate to APIs. One thing that occurred to me was how loosely the term “hybrid mobile app” is used – I’ve seen it used to define two very different types of app.

1. Hybrid HTML5/Native Mobile Apps
The term “hybrid mobile app” is often employed to describe an app that is created using a WORA (write once run anywhere) framework like PhoneGap or Appcelerator. These frameworks basically make it simple for developers to generate mobile apps using HTML5, Javascript and CSS.

In the case of Phonegap this app will essentially be a “wrapped” Web site. For PhoneGap apps, developers will often use a UI framework as well, such as JQuery Mobile or Sencha. These UI frameworks look “good enough” on mobile devices, although they should not be confused with the true native UI controls of iOS, Android etc.

In the case of Appcelerator, the generated app can actually leverage the true native sliders, scrollers, date pickers etc. of the device OS. The limitation to this approach is that a developer is fully locked in to what Appcelerator provides. Currently it offers builds for native iOS and Android as well as an HTML5 build, which could potentially be run through PhoneGap.

2. Hybrid API-Driven/Thin-Client Mobile Apps
The term is also used to describe apps that are installed on and run entirely on the mobile device – similar to how a totally native, offline game or other app might work – but which rely on a data connection for presenting Web-based resources, enterprise application functionality or other information assets.

Of course, these information assets are made accessible to the apps via APIs, which is where Layer 7 comes into the equation. In tomorrow’s webinar, I’ll be mainly focused on hybrid mobile apps that are powered by APIs and discussing aspects that are important to address when developing an HTML5 hybrid native app that is also a hybrid API-driven native app. Click here if you want to find out more about the webinar or if you’d like to register.

November 8th, 2012

APIs in Apps: Considerations for UX & App Performance Optimization

QConWhen a mobile app is dependent upon APIs, many new challenges are introduced to the developer. To provide the best possible user experience (UX), a mobile app should be snappy and responsive. Often though, in the reality of cell phone networks that are bottlenecked and over capacity, a dependence on a fast data connection can lead to a UX nightmare.

Tomorrow (that’s Friday November 9) at 10:30am, I’ll be discussing the challenges of mobile app UX at QCon in San Francisco. In a presentation called “HTML5 Cross-Platform Mobile Apps Integrating APIs”, I’ll be outlining significant challenges around API-driven mobile apps, as well as mistakes developers commonly make, and suggesting best practices for addressing them.

I hope you can make, if you’re at the show. Also, be sure to visit Layer 7 at booth #11.

October 22nd, 2012

Layer 7 Sends Lightning Bolts on the AT&T Hackathon Circuit

Layer 7 at AT&T HackathonsLayer 7 recently partnered with the folks at AT&T, to be a frequent sponsor on their hackathon circuit. AT&T hackathons provide a launching pad for developers to come solve big problems, learn about APIs, get inspired, win prizes and possibly launch new products. Take a look at the Layer 7 site for information on upcoming hackathons and join us if you can! In the meantime, here’s an overview of some recent AT&T events we participated in.

Mobile App Hackathon, Denver, CO (August 17-18). Layer 7 brought payment APIs that gave developers tools for integrating payments into apps and we were onsite providing technical support for iOS, Android and HTML5. Layer 7 also provided Apple TVs as prizes for the team that achieved the best technical integration of our customer API. The winning app was Open Perks, designed to make redeeming digital coupons and loyalty rewards easier.

Social Good Mobile App Hackathon, New York, NY (September 25-26). Apps built over the course of this weekend aimed to solve major social issues – for example, by alerting people when blood donation banks need their certain blood type or by improving support systems for alcoholics. We were there to offer onsite technical assistance and help teams with user experience/user interface design as well as general prototyping best practices.

Hack Across the Pond Mobile App Hackathon, London, UK (October 5-7). This hackathon – produced in partnership with the MIT Sloan Business Club and the UK Trade & Investment Agency – aimed to bring together developers in Boston and London. Utilizing simulcast video streaming, developers worked together on projects at both sites. We were onsite in London, providing organizational and technical assistance.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s Truancy Task Force & NYC Digital Hackathon, New York, NY (Oct 12-13). Onsite at AT&T’s downtown NYC office, we were again honored to be included in a prestigious group of sponsors. We gave a presentation on How APIs are Changing the World and it was a pleasure to work with and provide technical support to members of New York’s thriving, innovative developer community.

September 24th, 2012

Upcoming Webinar: Open APIs + Software Competitions = Innovative & Creative Solutions featuring ChallengePost

Layer 7 Challenge Post WebinarOpen API publishers often find themselves testing different strategies for promoting their APIs to developers. Hackathons represent a quick and easy way to get publicity and traction but API publishers often find the effects to be short-lived, with few meaningful mobile apps or Web mash-ups actually getting built.

At Layer 7, we work with our customers to help them drive real and measurable business results from their APIs. One specific method that has proven successful over time is running software competitions. As a partner with the leading online competition platform, ChallengePost, Layer 7 helps customers create developer challenges that get the desired results.

Within the scope of a hackathon – even one with unlimited Red Bull and experienced developers – time constraints will always force teams to cut corners and deliver prototypes or alpha/beta applications. By taking the idea of a hackathon and stretching it out over weeks or months, API publishers see drastically improved results.

Online challenges give developers the time to write quality code and build their applications from alpha, to beta, to production. Developer challenges also give API publishers more meaningful ways to engage with the participating teams. Meanwhile, offering prizes creates incentives that drive real, committed interest from developers.

I’ll be looking more deeply into the ins and outs of developer competitions on October 4, when I co-present a webinar called Open APIs + Software Competitions = Innovative & Creative Solutions, alongside Brandon Kessler of ChallengePost. Click here if you want to see more details of this event or if you’re interested in registering to attend.