Have you ever wondered how Google Maps is able to deliver relevant information depending on your location? Or, alternatively, how Hotels.com knows when a random hotel in Austin, Texas has a specific room available?
The answer is APIs, or application programming interface.
At its most basic definition, APIs let applications communicate with each other.
If you're a HubSpot customer and you want to integrate your WordPress website with your HubSpot CRM, an API is an interface that allows you to do just that, since an API can allow the two applications to access data from each other.
In today's world, whether you're aware of it or not, APIs are everywhere -- they control how we get information from social media sites, how we navigate our GPS's, and how we book tickets online.
Additionally, they're incredibly helpful for businesses. At HubSpot, for instance, APIs are necessary as we strive to become an "all-on-one" platform, which will enable our customers to use all their favorite software and applications in one place.
But whether you're interested in developing a unique one-of-a-kind API for your client, or want to install one for your own internal systems, you might be wondering -- should I use time and resources to build my own internal API, or should I access a Third Party API?
Here, we're going to explore the pros and cons of First vs. Third Party APIs, so you can ensure you're choosing the best option for your business.
What's a third-party API integration?
A third-party API integration is when a business uses a third-party's API to power an integration with another business's app or web service. For instance, your business might use Google's API to power a Google Ads integration with your own website. This is a third-party API integration. A first-party API integration, on the other hand, will use your own, in-house API to power your business's custom-built, in-app functionality.
Pros and Cons of First Party APIs
A First Party API gives you complete control over every aspect of the API lifecycle, including development, design, and implementation. Developing a First Party API, then, makes the most sense for unique client cases or security scenarios.
For instance, Connor Barley, who's on HubSpot's Developer Support team, told me -- "The obvious benefits to developing an API 'in-house' is that you have total control over what data is returned, its capabilities like filtering and pagination, and you can safely know exactly what data you'll get back every time. You also have the added bonus of being able to iterate quickly, and really tailor the API to your businesses particular needs."
However, developing and implementing an API in-house is expensive and takes time and resources to ensure it's functioning properly at all times. As Barley notes, "Good software requires constant upkeep and time spent on it, so you need to be willing to put in the time and money to keep your API up-to-date and able to be used."
Additionally, as complexity increases, so does expense. In the long run, particularly if you believe you'll need an API that can scale as your business grows, it might not be an optimal solution for your budget.
Next, let's consider the benefits and limitations of a Third Party API.
Pros and Cons of Third Party APIs
An API developed by a third-party will have requirements and regulations, so it's not necessarily an optimal solution if you need to tailor an API for specific business or client needs. However, most of the time, a Third Party API will meet your needs and be a safer and more effective solution.
As Brett Adkins, a Business Technology Analyst at Deloitte Consulting, notes -- "An API can expose a lot of data that you don't necessarily want certain users to access, so it has to be secure and have the right rules in place. Unless you work for a large company that does a lot of development work, it's unlikely you'll have the resources to efficiently develop an effective and safe API. In the long run it's probably much safer, and a better use of resources, to have an expert third-party develop it."
Oftentimes, there's no real need to reinvent the wheel. For instance, why go through the trouble of developing, designing, and implementing a maps platform with an in-house API when you can just as easily use Google Maps?
Plus, and perhaps most appealingly -- since you don't own a Third Party API, there's very little upkeep. As Barley notes, "Third Party APIs are reliable if you pick a good service, and can provide you with all the data you might need to run your business, without the hassle of developing it yourself."
Additionally, a Third Party API might enable you to approach a problem from a unique point-of-view that you wouldn't get from your developers in-house.
Of course, it's critical to note, you'll want to consider Third Party APIs rules and regulations before choosing one. You might find a Third Party APIs' rules are too constricting, and won't enable you to do what you need to do.
So … First or Third Party, which should you pick?
Ultimately, the decision to choose First vs. Third Party is entirely dependent on your resources, existing software infrastructure, budget, and business goals.
Isaac Takushi, a Developer Support Specialist at HubSpot, sums it up like this -- "A decision between first and third-party APIs is generally one between full control and out-of-the-box simplicity. When you decide to develop your own API, you must be prepared to embark on a journey and weather its perils. You're able to tailor your solutions to fit into your organization's existing infrastructure and meet your users' specific needs, but it can be easy to get tunnel vision. Third-party APIs, on the other hand, can open up worlds of possibilities that aren't afforded by your organization's time and resources, but force you to put trust and information in others' hands."
If you're considering using a Third Party API for your business, here are a few you might explore: