What is an Application Programming Interface (API)?

Posted by Brian Hayden with Shapelog

Do you use software to run your business?

That question sounds ridiculous because of course you do. Your ERP or CRM system helps you learn about your customers and employees. Your website and mobile app are channels for interacting with users. Software saves you time, gives you the information you need to make good decisions, and helps your team impress customers. It’s the backbone of your organization.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are an efficient way to share information across these different software platforms. If you learn to use them, you’ll be consistently more innovative than your competitors because:

●      APIs make your existing apps and software systems better. So you attract and retain more customers.

●      APIs put better information at your fingertips. So you look awesome and make better decisions.

●      APIs make it cheaper to build and support apps. So you can be bolder and more creative.

This is the first of two articles on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) in the fitness industry. These articles are written for dummies like me. If you want to know just enough about APIs to make wise investment decisions and hold meaningful conversations with your technical colleagues, read on. The goal of this article is to establish a mental model as a foundation for future learning.

If you want to know more about APIs you should listen to Karl Etzel’s FIT-C podcast, read O’Reilly’s “APIs: A Strategy Guide”, and explore ProgrammableWeb API Unviersity. The journey to API mastery is a mile long, and this article is just the first step.

What is an Application Programming Interface (API)?

An API is a hook that allows developers to access information in a structured way. When I have something valuable to share, I create an API so other developers can use it easily. The more interesting and unique my data is, the more developers will want to use it. Building and maintaining an API is how I make it easy for developers to use my business assets. Developers gain something new to sell to their customers, and I gain new revenue streams and distribution channels for my products.

Some APIs are public, but the vast majority are private. Developers use APIs to create internal tools to increase productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. They can also use APIs to create new apps or to make their consumer-facing apps better.

Here’s an example from O’Reilly’s “APIs: A Strategy Guide” that helped me:

AccuWeather is well known for providing weather data to the general public. They also maintain a very popular API that developers use to create their own apps. You can find AccuWeather data on their website, or through one of the many apps that are ‘powered by’ AccuWeather data. In theory, AccuWeather could have built all of those apps themselves, but in reality there’s no way that would happen. It would be too expensive and risky to undertake such an effort for one company, but by providing a unique and valuable tool to developers, AccuWeather data is now available in 37 languages and every country in the world. Consumers benefit from the creativity and risk taking of many developers creating new experiences, enabling AccuWeather to reach more people than would have been otherwise possible.

How Do APIs Impact the Fitness Industry?

Most fitness companies don’t know as much as they’d like about their customers. Fitness is a competitive space and consumer preferences are fickle. Over the last decade, many point solutions have emerged that illuminate some portion of the customer journey. Think club membership data, equipment usage, heart rate monitoring, steps, strength training performance, sleep, diet, and social networks - both inside and out of the club. Each of these is a ‘stranded’ data set that doesn’t tell a very complete story on its own. APIs are the bridges that connect the islands of data, and the companies that embrace a collaborative approach to developing new experiences will run circles around those that go it alone.

We’ll explore what that looks like more deeplyin the next article: “Why APIs are Critical to the Future of Fitness”.

If you’re a developer currently using APIs to build innovative user experiences, we’d love to hear from you, and shine a light on what you’re doing. Please comment, reach out via social media, or email me directly at

How Digital Fragmentation Impacts the Client Experience

It is often said that modern technology leads to fragmentation. After all, the internet is the perfect segmentation device. We have been able to form pocket communities of like-minded people, only discussing the things we like and avoiding contrasting experiences. Our attention span has fragmented too. We are bombarded with distractions and flutter from one page to another in a matter of seconds.

On the other hand, the online world is one of connectedness. The segmented communities we have formed are global ones. We are constantly in touch with each other via social media, message boards, email, and chat. Technology not only connects our media devices to the internet: our electronics, our entire homes, even our bodies are connected.

This paradox of technology has resulted in a quick-paced and exciting world, where adapting is the key to survival.


Changed Consumer Expectations

It's fair to say that the online experience has changed our expectations. Three things that we have come to expect as a result of living in a digital world are more choice, more contact, and more personalization. This affects the way professionals need to think about their business, their services, and their client experience.

Consumers Want More Choice

Our online minds want to move from one thing to the other, to pick what we like and ignore what we don't. Online shopping experiences are already tailored to this expectation of choice and flexibility: buy what you need, pay how you want. The offline world needs to follow, including the fitness industry. The classic membership model does not align anymore with consumer demand. Think unbundling, "pick & mix" memberships, variable combinations of online and face-to-face coaching, and so on.

Consumers Want More Contact

Mass communication is passé. The day of businesses flat-out telling consumers what to buy is over. In the era of social media, "conversation" is the word of the day. The art of persuasion has changed: businesses need to engage and entertain their audience, before informing and persuading them. This means you need to be tech-savvy, and have a constant ear to the ground for the fast-paced developments in online communication.

This also means digital omnipresence: you need to be there whenever consumers want to reach you. Social media pages and contact pages are a good start, but don't forget that integrating mobile apps and other communication tools into your business offer more flexibility while also offering more control over the client experience.

Consumers Want More Personalization

In a way, the anonymous internet has become an annoyance. People don't generally like to feel anonymous. We all want to feel like we matter. That means people not only want to find information where they expect to find it. Services also need to be tailored to the individual.

The key to this level of personalization is data. There are immense amounts of data generated by smart devices like phones and wearables, but also by on-premises tech such as access control and scheduling software. All this data can be leveraged to provide highly personalized services by fitness businesses: personalized workout and nutrition plans, on-demand class booking, tailored marketing offers, timely motivational messages, etc.

Improving the Client Experience with Technology

Technological developments have resulted in societal changes, which impact consumer demand. In turn, this forces fitness businesses to take a critical look at the entire customer journey. There are three key takeaways.

Firstly, consumers expect flexibility and choice. Instead of having your clients adapt to your services, adapt your services to their needs and wishes.

Secondly, consumers expect to be engaged in conversation. There is a desire for contact - but on their own terms. Social media, mobile apps, and other communication tools need to be considered. Note that there is no winning formula. The success of a business depends on the particularities of their clients' needs.

Finally, consumers expect a personal experience. After mass media, the last thing they want is to be treated like they are anonymous, or worse, a wallet with legs. The key is leveraging the huge amount of data from the various tech and software tools in use to offer a personalized client experience.

Pieter Verschuren is a tech enthusiast and Communications Officer at

Marketing Your Fitness Business - Do You Care Enough? by Bryan K. O'Rourke

Thanks to my colleague Eleanor Hisey at Fitsomo who shared a post that I just had to use from Gary Vaynerchuk, and to my partner Robert Dyer who spent so much time with me last week. These two along with my conversation with some of Gold's Gyms leading franchisees at the GGFA roundtable on social media last week led to this post.

By the way it meant a great deal to me to be invited by Ginger Collins and the great bunch of GGFA professionals, who I love, to discuss social media marketing at the Gold's convention. Thanks Ladies :). I was particularly excited that Gordon Johnson, along with several other leading Gold's franchisees, were there and asked so many relevant questions. They wanted to know about using social media, yet the conversation was less about technology and more about being human. I'll explain.

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