21 July 2017

What are connectors and API’s and why should you be interested?

Talking with developers sometimes feels as if you're on holiday. In a far, exotic country where the inhabitants babble a far, exotic Minion language that resembles yours just enough to make you think you understand them. Sort of. Almost.

Until yet again they use one of those words you though you knew the meaning of. Only they don't seem to mean what you think they mean.

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A word like 'connector' for instance. You thought it had something to do with plugging in devices. Or with people who have a real knack for introducing people to other people. But the nerds seem to be talking about something else entirely. It must be something special, because their eyes gleam happily and they are super enthusiastic about it. And they say it's exactly what you need for you business, or your webshop.

So you nod, yes, you're perfectly willing to consider it! Could they explain it one more time, perhaps? And there they go again in their exotic Minion gibberish. You nod and smile encouragingly, and are none the wiser.

How the hell are you supposed to figure out what they mean exactly?

Well, you just read this blog. Because we at CODE speak fluent Nerd, and we've got a copywriter who doesn't stop asking questions until she gets it, too. And then she writes a blog about it in normal-people-language. Convenient, right?

So, connectors. What is it, what does it do, what’s in it for you?

Let's start with what's in it for you. More than anything, well executed connectors are a way to save you a lot of time, money and boring recurrent chores. Remember Knotten, the woolstore-cum-webshop that we blogged about some time ago? For quite some time, owner Francis Notten had to copy the sales figures from her brick-and-mortar store into the software of her webshop, to ensure that her webshop's stock indications matched the real stock. Every. Single. Day.

You can imagine how happy she was when she found a good connector to do this for her.

It also illustrates what a connector in fact does: it enables different digital systems to talk to each other. Automatically, so that you don't have to be involved anymore. In Francis' case it was the stock management system she used for her store, and the stock management system of her webshop.

But it could be anything, in principle. You could connect your scales to your fitness app, so that your smartphone knows how many extra situps you will have to do this week. Or your Netflix account to your TV, your tablet, and your mobile phone, enabling you to watch movies and series everywhere.

For entrepreneurs connectors are even more empowering.

You could connect your CRM system to your administration software for instance, to automatically process changes of address. Or your time tracking app to your invoicing software, so that you won't ever have to manually draw up invoices yourself, again. Another good one: connecting your webshop to your fulfilment partner, to have orders from your shop go straight to the party executing them. Thus enabling you, literally, to earn money sleeping.

If lots of people need the same connector, it is usually brought to the market as a so-called 'plugin' or app. Mollie is a good example: what they offer is a safe connection between a webshop and your bank account. Thanks to this type of connectors, you and the rest of the world have started shopping online en masse.

At this point IT people often start talking about ‘API’s’ as well.

Much used systems that are often connected to other systems usually have an API (Application Programming Interface), to make developers' lives easier. An API is to a system what the back of your TV is to that TV: it has all kinds of ports with which you can easily connect other appliances to it. And these other appliances usually have a similar set of ports. You only have to place the right cord between them.

That is why developers love API's: all that is left for them to do is putting the right cord between the systems.

Mollie has done this to great effect. They collected the API'S of several paying methods, and bundled those 'ports' into a single app. Then they built an API for their app, with which it becomes very easy for the creators of webshop software to integrate their application with many different paying methods, in one go. It's a matter of producing the right cord. One that fits perfectly between the API of Mollie and the API of, say, Shopify.

What kind of connector would make your life easier?

Are there boring chores you have to do often and that eat up a lot of time? Or things you would love to get started with, which you keep postponing because they take too much time? Or do you have information stored in one place that you would like to have in another place as well?

It absolutely pays off to see if there's already a connector or app available for this. And if there isn't, you could consider having it made. If you do, it is important to estimate in advance what such a connector will cost you, and how much it returns in terms of saved time and money. If the outcome makes you happy, by all means go right ahead!

Want to continue talking about this sometime? CODE loves to think along with you. Call, email, or stop by in Delft for a cup of coffee!

Please!
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About the author

CODE easily writes 100 lines of code every day, but a blog is a different story! So we leave that to Linda Bleijenberg, our copywriter. She lives around the corner and wants to be an IT wizard when she grows up. Until then, she writes blogs about what we at CODE are up to.