Developer

How Much Free API Access Does It Take To Build A Web Business?

Many web-based businesses rely on a ‘freemium’ model: a small pool of users paying for premium services while the majority use the basic option for free. That works well in some cases, but if access to the service depends on letting other developers access your core APIs, how do you define the limits on what they get for free?

Australian-developed multi-modal travel search provider Rome2rio is one of Lifehacker’s favourite travel resources. If you want to know how to get from Newcastle in NSW to Newcastle in the UK, it will search flights, trains and other resources to come up with possible routes.

That’s very handy for individual travellers, but it doesn’t create much of a business model in itself. The main aim for Rome2rio is to license access to its service to other app developers and sites which sell travel, including airlines.

Following a recent revision, partners can now integrate the Rome2rio service for free, provided the partner site or app doesn’t send more than 100,000 requests a month. The sign-up process is automated, though support for the free version is limited to email. Customers who pay for API access can send larger volumes of requests, receive phone support and have a full service-level agreement to ensure access.

That seems a reasonable balance, though there’s inevitably an element of ‘suck it and see’ in picking an upper limit. “With new partner enquiries running at two to three per day under the current pricing model, we knew the automated sign-up would be critical once we went to a freemium model,” CEO Rod Cuthbert said in the announcement of the new approach.

“Clearly the big opportunity for Rome2rio is to power the high volume sites as they adopt multi-modal, door-to-door search. Developing this type of technology in-house is probably out of the question for most of them, and the ability to show their own flight results in-line with our rail, road and sea results will give them the best of both worlds, without too much development effort.”