[David Strom's Web Informant] Box turns the API world inside-out

David Strom david at strom.com
Mon Apr 27 06:32:49 EDT 2015

​Web Informant, April 27, 2015: Box turns the API world inside-out​

You might not have seen the news last week from Box, the online storage
service. There are two items. First is about Box's new developer edition
<https://www.box.com/blog/box-developer-edition/>, announced at its annual
conference. What is significant is that this is the first time, to my
knowledge, that a software developer has made it easier to embed its app
inside other apps. Let's see what they did and why it is important.

Many software vendors have spent time developing application programming
interfaces or APIs that make it easier for third parties to have access to
their apps or data that they collect. These days it is hard to find a
vendor that doesn't offer an API, and Box has done a terrific job with its
own APIs to be sure. They have created a developer community of tens of
thousands of people who write programs using them.

These programs make it easy to fax a document from within Box via an
Internet faxing service, add digital signatures inside a document, make
small changes to a document, and so forth. The idea is to manipulate a
document that is inside the Box cloud storage system, so that their cloud
can become more valuable than the dozens or hundreds of other cloud-based
storage providers that are available. Without access to its APIs, a third
party has to first move the document out of Box, make these changes, and
then move it back to its repository. That takes time and uses computer

But the developer edition turns this notion on its head, or should I say
goes inside the Box. What they are trying to do now is allow apps to
a set of Box features, but doing so inside your own app. Instead of
accessing APIs so you can manipulate particular documents, you can make use
of Box's security routines, or storage routines, or other basic
functionality, so that you don't need to invent this functionality from
scratch for your own particular app. What are some of the features that are
offered? According to the announcement, these include: "full text search,
content encryption, advanced permissions, secure collaboration, and
compliance." That is a lot of stuff that an independent software developer
doesn't have mess with, which means that new apps could be written more

On top of the developer edition, Box also announced its own Javascript
libraries that anyone can use to get started on coding some of these
features, called T3 <http://t3js.org/>. They had posted a few snippets of
code on this website showing you how you can construct a Todo list. While
JS frameworks are numerous, this one might be interesting, particularly in
light of the developer announcement.

Certainly, online storage is undergoing its own evolutionary moment. Google
is now charging a penny a GB per month for near-line storage
<https://cloud.google.com/nearline-storage>, promising to retrieve your
files in seconds. Of course, they and other cloud providers are (so far)
just a repository, and that is the line in the cloud that Box is trying to
draw with these announcements.

If it all works out, we'll see Box become the center of a new universe of
apps that can take collaboration to the next level, because the folks at
Box have already built a collaboration environment that they use for their
own customers. It is gutsy, because a Box-like competitor could make use of
these features and out-Box Box (which is one reason that Box will control
who has access to its tools for now).

It could backfire: developers are a funny bunch, and many of them like
reusing someone else's code but maybe not to the level that Box requires.
It certainly is a different model, and one that will take some getting used
to. But the proof is in the pudding, and we'll see in the coming months if
anyone's code turns out to be noteworthy.

​Comments always welcome: http://blog.strom.com/wp/?p=4810​
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