May 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Take My API—Please

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Another Remix partner is GetGlue.com, which lets shoppers view social shopping information related to whatever they happen to be browsing. GetGlue provides users with a web page toolbar, or Glue bar, that shows thumbnail images of friends that have viewed the same products. Users can mouse over or click each friend’s image to get more information, such as whether a friend purchased the browsed item and, if so, product reviews the friend may have posted online.

By connecting with Best Buy’s API, GetGlue can show products these shoppers have viewed or purchased on BestBuy.com.

Hoping to attract developers, Best Buy is publicizing the Remix program on developer sites such as Programmableweb.com, Mashable.com, ReadWriteWeb.com and TopCoder.com. Through online ads and e-mail campaigns, it lets developers know they can log onto Remix.BestBuy.com to learn about the API program and start experimenting on a development project.

Best Buy routinely e-mails developers about updates to Remix, such as its recent expansion of the program to include access to the text of customer reviews as well as the ratings generated through the retailer’s Bazaarvoice system.

To start projects, developers can click from the Remix web site to register on an application hosted online by Mashery, which serves as the sole gateway to Best Buy’s API. Most projects are self-started by developers without prior input from Best Buy; they need only an e-mail address to begin using the API, Matheny says.

To make it easy for developers to participate and attract the most projects, Best Buy allows for constant free access to the API. “Developers often show up in the middle of the night and don’t want to wait for approvals, so it’s best to give them limited access without requiring pre-approvals,” Mashery CEO Michels says.

Mashery manages access by developers to Best Buy’s API, including the level of each developer’s volume of API transactions.

Controlling data flow

To protect its core infrastructure during Remix projects, Best Buy worked with Mashery and web site developer Pivotal Labs to design and build a Remix technology platform separate from BestBuy.com but with a copy of the retailer’s product catalog data. “We did that so as not to endanger our core BestBuy.com platform in any way,” Matheny says.

When developers pull information from the Remix API, their data queries go through the Mashery gateway to the Remix platform. Mashery controls access by developers to the API according to rules set by Best Buy; it also manages the level of each developer’s API transaction volume, presenting constantly updated volumes on a web dashboard for Best Buy managers.

Best Buy limits each self-starting Remix developer to a range of 1,000 to 5,000 API queries per day, that is, the number of times an application pulls product descriptions, images or prices. During these initial and relatively low levels of API activity, Best Buy and Mashery let developers operate on their own to see what might develop, Matheny says.

If a developer starts to exceed 5,000 daily queries, Best Buy will inquire about the project and determine whether it offers enough potential value to proceed using the API, he adds.

When Best Buy has a particular need for which no developers have started a project, it will post an invitation with incentives on TopCoder.com, which provides a page for Best Buy as well as other API providers to monitor project proposals.

In a recent invitation to develop an application to support webcams, for example, Best Buy offered $250 to each of the top five developers judged to have the best ideas. Next, it will offer a higher monetary award to the two or three coded applications that stem from these ideas and are considered the most effective and promising.

To get on the short list of best coded applications, a solicited project must pass two sets of tests: a manual review of the software code by Matheny’s team to ensure the code makes sense, and an actual test of the software functionality by TopCoder to ensure the application works. The one judged to have the best functionality gets the final project go-ahead.

Although Best Buy isn’t saying what it cost to build the Remix API infrastructure, Matheny describes it as an inexpensive project that has already proven its value in multiple ways. While it ensures that outside developers are getting accurate and up-to-date information from Best Buy’s product catalog without causing high traffic volumes to BestBuy.com during the development stage, it also supports in-house application development.

World of ideas

One of the largest uses of the Remix API program is a Best Buy project manager testing out a new way to provide information from BestBuy.com in the retailer’s stores. “Doing a custom data extraction like this would have cost $500,000, but because we have Remix already making the data available, it costs us nothing,” Matheny says.

The greatest excitement about Remix, however, is that it opens up Best Buy to ways of reaching and serving customers that it otherwise may have never thought of, he adds. “We acknowledge that we don’t have all the best ideas at headquarters,” Matheny says. “So we’re asking the world to share ideas.”

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

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