What is an API anyway?

The team at Bridge has watched the collective eyes of a conference room glaze over when these three letters are uttered… A … P … I…

It’s a bit disheartening given how passionate we are about them. But we get it. This heady tech stuff can make a person’s head spin.

But, this is a topic that bears a lot of importance in our industry right now. While it may seem like something only developers should care about, the truth is APIs impact all of us in many aspects of our lives, and our businesses.

APIs are what make it possible to order an Uber on our phones, watch Netflix on our living room TVs, and buy things online using Paypal.

And at Bridge, we believe APIs that meet widely adopted industry standards are the way forward to a smoother, more technologically advanced real estate industry.

Specifically, standard APIs offer the real estate industry:

  • More control to ensure the right people receive the right data
  • Freedom to innovate and get new applications to market faster
  • A faster, easier way to better technology that scales

 

An API, or Application Program Interface, is simply a means of programmatically requesting and transporting data. Moving data into and out of systems is a reality of this business. Data is needed for nearly every piece of real estate technology to thrive. And it is a core asset of every brokerage company and MLS.

A great analogy is to think of an API as a bartender. You need to interact with a bartender to get information (what beers do you serve?) and also functionality (the bartender serves you the beer).

Taking the metaphor deeper, the bartender knows each customer and might have special instructions for how each likes their drink served, whether they have an open tab or have had too many drinks in the last hour. Similarly, an API provides a way to control the data that is returned based on the API user’s identity, checks that their account is up to date, limits the number of requests per hour, and many other controls tailored to the specific details of the application that is calling the API.

Having an API in front of your data unlocks the power of programmatic access. Without one, there wouldn’t be a way for someone writing a new software application to use your data, thereby unleashing its value.

But not all APIs are created equally. They vary in how easy they are to use, the operations they support, and the way they organize resources, among other things.

API design has evolved significantly over the last 20 years, and this is true in the real estate industry as well. The RETS standard was the first API created to serve the industry, but is now being phased out as the more modern Web API is quickly being adopted as the new standard.  

This new standard should be much more familiar to today’s web development community, and greatly reduce the learning curve for someone looking to innovate in the real estate space for the first time.

Bottom line…

APIs make it easier and faster to get your data in the places you want and need it to be so you can scale, integrate modern technology into your business and even use your data in ways you never thought possible.

In a time when brokers want to move fast, innovate more and face new competition head on, we are all better served by a system for moving data that standardizes it according to our industry’s agreed-upon terms, but also speaks the same language as the rest of the world.

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