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Crowdsourcing makes up for lack of API documentation

Agencies have been releasing, and in some cases making use of, application programming interfaces, (APIs) the basic tools that developers use to make apps run on certain platforms and allow them to better implement an agency’s publically accessible data. It’s all part of the move toward mobile government.

Unfortunately, sometimes implementing APIs can be tricky, and the documentation is scant or just as often not there at all.

When I was learning to program in college, my teachers always tried to instill good documentation habits, but there was an underlying sentiment among the students that “if it was hard to write, it should be hard to understand.” One of my classmates even had that slogan on a bumper sticker, I kid you not. At any rate, the reality is that many companies and agencies have realized that the cost in work hours of producing complete documentation can be prohibitive, and many developers may consider documentation to be out of date and therefore not useful, according to an IEEE study.

The result is that much of the burden for documentation has been shifted to developers, who have started taking matters into their own hands by answering each others' questions about implementation -- sometimes  even starting a wiki about it. Basically, they’re crowdsourcing documentation.

A recent informal study by Ninlabs Research concluded that developers are getting as much as 50 percent of their API-related questions  answered from sites such as Stack Overflow and the Android Developer Forum.

Such “crowd documentation” may be a great help to your particular development needs, or you may in fact find the originator’s instructions to be fine. According to the Ninlabs survey, it is a coin toss as to which side a developer might fall, but crowdsourcing at least gives developers another option.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Mar 08, 2013 at 9:39 AM


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