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Open your data to the world

Neil Savage | April 17, 2013
Public APIs let customers connect to you in new ways.

With the launch of its open API, the company is now allowing customers to create their own apps, such as watch lists for selected securities or their own trading systems. They also allow outside developers to create apps that draw on other data sources as well as Bloomberg's. "We're not giving away market data. What this allows people to do is integrate with other services," Edwards says. "The API is a piece of software that connects to the Bloomberg cloud."

It just makes sense to let others do the app development, he explains. "We're not in the business of selling software," he says. "We're going to win their business by providing the best services and the best data."

When Bloomberg put out the open API, it decided to remove some of the old features that the previous versions supported. There was discussion as to whether the API should be backward compatible. "We said no," Edwards says. That meant some customers wound up with deprecated functions, but Edwards says it makes the API less cluttered with out-of-date functions.

Like most open APIs, the BLPAPI supports a variety of languages, so developers can choose the best one for their app. Someone running an overnight batch process might choose Perl, or the recently released Python version. An electronic trading system would probably run on C or C++. Quantitative analysts, or quants, generally use the data in Matlab. The API also supports Java, .Net, and C#, and Edwards says some developers are using an R wrapper as well.

One key to making an API successful lies in making it easy to use. Back in 2000, RedMonk's O'Grady says, APIs often used web services protocols, but they proved too complex. Now about three quarters of all APIs are REST-based, according to ProgrammableWeb, with SOAP a distant second. "Because developers overwhelmingly preferred this, it's now the dominant protocol for API systems," O'Grady says.

The importance of clarity

Another important requirement is having extensive, clear documentation, and tools to help developers do their jobs. Bloomberg's initial documentation was aimed more at the financial experts who are its customers, and had to be reworked to tell developers what they needed to know.

""The API is a piece of software that connects to the Bloomberg cloud," says Shawn Edwards, Bloomberg's chief technology officer. "We're not giving away market data. What this allows people to do is integrate with other services."

The BLPAPI also tried to make work easier for developers by providing a replay tool that allows them to perform trial runs of their apps, but that was not available when it first launched. Best Buy's BBYOpen also gives developers a set of tools, including a test console to run apps and an automatic widget generator. The World Bank offers a query builder that lets developers select options.

 

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