Recently, I looked on the Azure data market place (or whatever it’s called) to see what sort of data services are available there. I didn’t find anything super compelling. There were a few premium, for-fee services that sounded potentially interesting but nothing that I felt like spending money on before I could try things out.
As I was perusing, I found a synonyms service. Nice, but this is nothing earth-shaking. There are already a number of viable, programmable synonyms services out there. Surely Thesaurus.com has one. I think Wolfram Alpha has one. Wordnik has one. BigHugeLabs has one that I integrated with emacs. But let’s look a little closer.
Let me show you the URL structure for the “Synonyms” service available (as “Community Technical Preview”!) on Azure.
Oh, Azure Synonyms API, how do I NOT love thee? Let me count the ways…
- There’s no version number. What if the API gets revised? Rookie mistake.
- GetSynonyms? Why put a verb in the URI path, when the HTTP verb “GET” is already implied by the request? Useless redundancy. If I call GET on a URI path with the word “Synonyms” in it, then surely I am trying to get synonyms, no?
- Why is the word Bing in there at all?
- Notice that the word to get synonyms of, must be passed with the query param named “Query”. Why use Query? Why not “word” or “term” or something that vaguely corresponds to the actual thing we’re trying to do here? Why pass it as a query param at all? Why not simply as part of the URL path?
- Also notice that the word must be enclosed in quotes, which themselves must be URL-encoded. That seems like an awkward design.
- What you cannot see in that URL is the authentication required. Azure says the authentication is “HTTP Basic Auth” which means you pass a username and password pair, joined by a colon then base64 encoded, as an HTTP Header. But… there is no username and password. Bing/Azure/Microsoft gives you an API Key, not a user name. And there’s no password. So you need to double the API key then base64 encode *that*, and pretend that it’s HTTP Basic Auth.
If readers aren’t persuaded that the above are evidence of poor API design, then you might consider heading over to the API Craft discussion group on Google Groups to talk it over.
Alternatively, or in addition, spend some time reading “the REST Manifesto,” Roy Fielding’s thesis paper, specifically chapter 5 in that document. It’s about 18 printed pages, so not too big a commitment.
The problem with releasing a poorly-designed API, is that it can do long-term damage.
As soon as a real developer takes a look at your service, he will not walk, he’ll RUN away to an alternative service. If your API is a pain to use, or is poorly designed, you are guaranteed to drive developers somewhere else. And they won’t come back! They might come just to poke around, but if they see a bad service, like this Synonyms service, they will flee, never to return. They will quickly conclude that you just don’t get it, and who could blame them?
So learn from Azure’s mistakes, and learn from the success of others. Take the time to get it right.
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