If you need a lesson in not basing your future on someone else's API, here is one. Face.com, recently acquired by Facebook, has announced that it is winding up it face recognition API.
Facebook clearly has a use for face recognition technologies of the sort developed by Face.com - but so do lots of other programmers. Face.com's API was very easy to use and allowed apps to recognize faces and various details such as gender, age and even mood of people in photos or video stills. It was a tempting facility even if the API was in beta and might well have changed into a paid for service in the future.
However, any developers who thought that they could make good use of it, even if it did become a paid for service, must now be regretting the decision.
Soon after being acquired by Facebook, Face.com reassured programmers that its API wouldn't be effected. The blog entry read:
Now, lots of developers use Face.com technology to power various apps and make wonderful products. We love you guys, and the plan is to continue to support our developer community. If there are new developments you can expect to hear from us here, on the developer blog, and through our developer newsletter.
The blog hasn't been updated, but now the site front page simply says:
"Face.com has been acquired by Facebook, and as part of this process, we need to close up existing products and services so we can focus on new products at Facebook.
We're working with Face.com developers to transition as we wind down support for our APIs."
It isn't clear what, if any, Facebook-based API will be made available, but it is likely that any such facility will apply to Facebook apps, rather than being something general.
In addition to closing the API, the KLIK iOS app has also been removed from the app store and users are being given information on how to download their data - although what use the data will be without the app isn't clear. The announcement is even more aggressively phrased:
"You can download photos you've been tagged in and photos you took with KLIK until July 20th 2012. After this date Face.com will dispose of the data we collect in connection with your use of the KLIK app and will not be migrating data to Facebook. All your data will be deleted – no exceptions."
As developers we generally have to trust that any facility we decide to build into our apps will be around for long enough to make it worth our while. Usually we tend to think of what happens if a company runs into financial difficulties, and hence we tend to trust companies that are well established or seem certain to win out in the long run - such as Face.com. However, it seem that success doesn't imply stability as it also increases the chances of being bought by a bigger firm with other intentions.
Perhaps the only way to be sure about an API is to either own it, make sure there are alternatives, or make sure it is open source.
Can companies do any more to make it clear to us all that open source is the only way to go?