City Event Summary: Oslo 3 April

Energy levels were high on Thursday, 3 April, as Nordic APIs began the final leg of the “Private, Partner Public APIs” event tour. Participants at the Oslo venue were excited to have an event solely focused on APIs, and the Nordic APIs speakers were keen to share their presentations and feedback with an enthusiastic audience.

Magnus from Swedish startup Energimolnet has already released a public API but much of the startup’s business model is based around ideas more akin to partner APIs. They are working on solutions that enable energy-data-as-a-service. “We are more interested in helping other businesses create energy-related services,” Magnus shared. “There are 172 energy companies in Sweden, so being able to pull data in and make it accessible, that’s where the idea grew to be able to help other B2Bs.” Magnus was keen to network with other attendees and to learn more about how to make their API more user-friendly.

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Torston from Traverse attended looking for networks of developers and business working at the cutting edge of API design. Previously, he would go to meetups focused on apps to meet others working with APIs, but they have tended to fizzle out, making it hard to get inspiration. “I’m looking for use cases, maybe not on public transport [the industry I work with], but in other domains.” Traverse is creating a platform for mobile ticketing for public transport operators (PTOs). They take some of the current ideas around APIs that sync up public transport timetabling and are adding ticketing provisioning; it extends the value chain of the API integrations and allows PTOs to provide apps with a secure ticketing payment system included.

Kim from Redpill Linpro heard about the Oslo event from colleagues across the Nordic countries where Redpill has offices. Several of his colleagues had attended the Stockholm event and recommended his team attend in Oslo. They were keen to meet the MuleSoft team, being familiar with MuleSoft’s integration products for several years. “The theme is interesting for us, and there are a lot of interesting companies attending here as well,” Kim said. “My unit mostly works with APIs, and we’re an open source specialist. We also thought this would be a good opportunity to hear what Layer 7 and Twobo have to say.”

Matching Audience Interests

Tom Burnell from Axway shared several use cases that connected with much of the audience in Oslo. He showed how Norwegian business Storebrand are using APIs to extend their market reach with business partners, and pointed to the example of how they have been able to leverage the data that is exposed via APIS to create a health insurance price comparison website. Tom’s use cases no doubt ticked off the interests of Magnus, Torston and Kim. Another of Tom’s cases studies centred around Essent, the Swedish energy company that is using APIs to help customers optimize their energy usage. Meanwhile, the use case that Tom shared around how telecommunications company 3G is using APIs to allow customers to top up their pre-paid phones, and the way pharmacy giant CVS is using APIs to let customers refill their prescriptions both matched Torston’s interest in how companies in other domains are using APIs to empower the purchasing pathway for large operators, whether they be telcos, health care or transport. Some of Tom’s key messages matched the key topics that Kim said he was looking to discuss. These included:

  • The value in designing private APIs with an eye toward a future when they may become public;
  • Security is one of the most important considerations; and
  • Throttling and rate limiting is needed to generate analytics and alerts to ensure Quality of Service (QoS).

3 Core Principles in Open Data Supply

kristinWeather data has been one of the most advanced domains for open data, with many government agencies opening up their weather data over several years. Amongst this more sophisticated open data sector, Norway has become an international leader. Kristin Lyng, from the meteorological agency, MET Norway, explained to the Nordic APIs audience how MET Norway and the API at yr.no have become worldwide resources for a breadth of other agencies and industry sectors. This includes many public broadcasters worldwide who are using weather data in their daily news forecasting. Kristin pointed to three main principles that have underpinned the approach that has led MET Norway to become a world leader in open data supply:

1. The decision to make data open is not user-oriented, but how you make the data available is user-oriented

Kristin dissected two issues that often get tied up together and can be used as a barrier to making data open. First, it is important to agree to the fundamental principle that data should be open and accessible. Once that has been agreed upon, the question of what format the data should be made available in can be discussed. “The formats to make the data available should be a decision, but the responsibility to open data should be a given,” Kristin stated. She said that MET Norway uses a Creative Commons attribution license, which means anyone can use the data, but they must credit MET Norway as the source.

2. What is good enough for us is good enough for the re-user (But need to be prepared to face criticism)

Following from point one, Kristin recognised a second barrier to making data available: sometimes open data is in messy formats. Internally, staff may be used to cleaning the data as they go, to make sure it is fit for the specific purpose they have in mind. The messiness of open data should not be a barrier to making it available, says Kristin. She also admits, however, that bureaucracies may need to be thick-skinned enough to face the inevitable criticism that will come with opening up data. The upside of this is that end users can start helping identify how the data can be improved. As a result, the responsible agency will gain a wealth of knowledge on how the open data is being used in civil society.

3. Dialogue with the re-user community and act on the feedback

Being able to accept criticism, and to accept it as a constructive opportunity to improve the quality of the data allows government agencies to enter into an ongoing dialogue with developers who are making use of the data supply. “Being more open might be equivalent to increasing the quality of your work,” Kristin urges. (However, there may also be lessons for developers in this as well: open data advocates within government agencies may face resistance from their peers to releasing data, so they can be in a position where they are getting negative reactions internally, as well as facing criticisms from end-users in the developer community. As developers, if we need to be critical of the quality of open data, we can help build stronger working relationships with government data suppliers by explaining why we need it, or by offering insights into how we think problems could be fixed.)

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Brief Mentions

  • In addition to inspiring the audience with all the use cases of Twilio, Ben Nunney also shared a personal project — a smile-as-a-service offering where you can send a random compliment to a friend or stranger using the Twilio API.
  • With so many interesting presentations, the agenda was fairly packed, so tea breaks were kept short. Bjørn from Norsk Eiendomsinformasjon tweeted “So many interesting people to talk to that I didn’t make it to the coffee machine in the break…”!
  • At one point, music from a rehearsing band filtered through to the venue chamber, setting off another series of tweets begging Tom Burnell to finally make good on his moonwalking promise. For the benefit of the audience, Tom refused.

After 4 events in 4 days in 4 Nordic countries, the team was happy to see the energy maintained from the first introduction in Stockholm, to the goodbyes in Oslo. Despite the long week, the Nordic APIs crew is already starting to plan a three-day event in Stockholm for late October that will begin with a day of workshops followed by a two-day conference. Subscribe to this blog or follow Nordic APIs on Twitter to stay informed.

Mark Boyd

About Mark Boyd

Mark Boyd is a freelance writer specializing in the API economy, with a particular focus on API business models, open data and civic tech.