The power of Information APIs (and what an API is)

When you think of the transfer of information over the Internet things such as email, websites, The Cloud, Skype or Internet telephony probably come to mind; but one of the most powerful tools available to companies today are Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

What are Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)?

APIs allow developers to interface one technology or system with another; Information APIs are designed specifically to provide information from one system to another. A great example of this is what we use on our registration form for capturing a customer's postal address.

Our registration form only asks for a post code and once a customer has put in this information we look up the rest of the address and automatically fill in the form for them. The key part about this is that we don't have all of the addresses in the UK stored anywhere. That would take a lot of manpower and specialities that we just done have; instead we use an API.

Postcode Checker

In a single click, we send the post code to another company, who have the specialities and the data to look up the address. They then do the look up for us and send back all the matching addresses, pretty much instantly. Once we display these on our page, all our customer needs to do is click on their address and they’re halfway done to registering.

It's obvious to see the benefits of making our registration form as pain free as possible, but we would never have been able to make it that easy on our own.

Enabling the easy distribution of information

APIs allow information to be distributed much more easily, and on demand, meaning that the specialists can focus on what they do best, and charge for it. The company we use to look up post codes can worry about importing the thousands of new addresses which are created each year and the hundreds of changes and alternations so we don’t have to. Equally they can use our telephone numbers without having to even know about about carrier interconnects or rate sheets!

You'll find that Information APIs come in many different types, but many of them are based on 'HTTP' which is the same thing your web browser uses to get webpages however the sending and receiving format of the information is usually what’s different.

What we've been seeing in the last couple of years is that many Information APIs are starting to use JSON to send and receive requests and responses, due to the increase in HTML5 usage and powerful JavaScript frameworks such as jQuery which many developers are utilising to build their websites.

As another example, we send the post code to the checker API in what's known as XML format, and we receive their results in XML as well. With the TTNC API our customers send information in POST format, and we reply in XML.

The functions of the TTNC API

Our API actually has two primary functions. First of all, you can use it to get your Call Data, so you can import your call statistics straight into your own systems, in a near live timeframe. You can also use our API to perform actions on your account and numbers, so rather than logging into the control panel to add a new number, or to change the forwarding destinations, you can utilise our API to do it. One of our customers has used the API to help them manage their very irregular shift work, which couldn't be catered for with our standard Time Based Forwarding service. The majority of our customers using our API use it to bring their call data in house for custom reporting and storage.

Sharing and distributing information is what the World Wide Web was intended for. There is plenty of good data out there, supplied in an on demand and digital format which you can build right into your own systems and websites.

David Orrell