Understanding ongoing transformations in user behavior can help you design better products. Here is what you need to know about the impact of APIs on user behavior.

How APIs Shape User Behavior and Why It Matters - Permeation of Technology

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The 21st century has seen an unprecedented permeation of technology. Combine that with the adaptability of human behavior and you get a user population whose cognitive patterns and expectations are shaped by daily interactions with digital technology.

The phantom ringing syndrome is a clear example of technology influencing behavior on a physiological level. This is when you feel vibrations from your phone when it did not. In fact, this is so prevalent that there are thousands of published research on the phenomenon.

Compared to our incessant notifications, other technologies work in the background to create systematic change. Among them are application programming interfaces (APIs). Simply put, APIs enable fast and secure interactions between different applications behind-the-scenes without being exposed to users. Learn more about APIs and their business benefits in this article.

According to Anant Jhingran, CTO of Apigee, APIs form, “the connective tissue linking ecosystems of technologies and organizations, [that] allows businesses to monetize data, forge profitable partnerships, and open new pathways for innovation and growth.”

As a connective tissue extending across the digital ecosystem, APIs influence user behavior underneath the surface yet on an environmental scale. The impact APIs’ global proliferation is emphasized by Chris Risdon’s reminder that “changing the environment is the most impactful way to influence [user] behavior.”

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How APIs shape user behavior

How APIs Shape User Behavior and Why It Matters — How APIs Shape Behavior

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Unlike notifications, APIs are not designed to create interruptions in the user experience (UX). Instead, API shape user behavior through by establishing perceptual baselines. This mechanism is based on the principle that users form expectations for how applications should work based on how they’ve interacted with similar applications in the past.

Common perceptual baselines include:

  • Looking to the upper left or right corner for a red icon to close windows
  • Swiping down to refresh content feeds on mobile/tablet devices
  • Scrolling to the top of a page to find a horizontal navigation tab

While these interaction patterns may seem subtle, they form the basis of intuitive design that help users effectively navigate and use applications. Violating these “invisible” interaction patterns can lead to higher churn, more support calls, and slow adoption.

To help you design a product that fits today’s user expectations, below are the three implicit interaction patterns introduced by widespread API adoption.

Integrated in-platform capabilities

How APIs Shape User Behavior and Why It Matters - Integrated In-Platform Capabilities

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An integrated digital experience is one where all the data and functionality you need are gathered in a single platform.

If you’re looking for a hotel, you’re likely not going to open five separate tabs to search for the same room across five different booking vendors. Instead, you’ll likely conduct a single search on Google, TripAdvisor, or a similar aggregator site and pick the best offering. In fact, Expedia reportedly generates 90% of its $2 billion revenue through its API which delivers real-time data and booking capabilities to these aggregator sites.

Along with hospitality, the marketing technology (martech) industry is also moving towards delivering integrated experiences. In fact, a number of martech leaders are blazing the way and establishing perceptual baselines in the process.

For example, advertising platforms like Facebook, Google, and Steelhouse recognize that sending advertisers away from the ad creation process to open new tabs to search, license, and download images creates friction that can reduce campaign completion rates. By offering an integrated workflow with the Shutterstock API, these companies help users maximize the value and utility of their ad platform.

Continuous cross-platform authentication

How APIs Shape User Behavior and Why It Matters - Continuous Cross-Platform Authentication

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Authentication provides perhaps the most obvious API touchpoint for users. When you’re given the option to sign up or log in to a website or application using Facebook, Twitter, or another existing account, that authentication is powered by each platform’s APIs.

The benefits of cross-platform authentication include:

  • Fast sign up process
  • Reduction in the permutations of usernames and passwords to remember
  • Optimized registration flow on mobile to boost mobile acquisition
  • Customized digital experience
  • Enabling seamless social sharing functionality
  • Accuracy of information

The scope of cross-platform authentication stretches from eCommerce websites to your favorite meditation apps to the New York Times. APIs are particularly useful for authentication because it provides an intermediary layer that prevents the application from accessing sensitive user information. Additionally, discrete authentication calls through an API allows for retrieval of up-to-date information.

For Shutterstock API partners, they can rest assured that their asset library is always updated with the freshest content for their users. In fact, our royalty-free library grows by over a million assets per week which ensures that users in the same industry can always find unique, high-quality images, video clips, and music tracks for their creative projects.

Personalization at scale

How APIs Shape User Behavior and Why It Matters - Personalization at Scale

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According to a 2018 survey, “74% of marketers believe that personalization has a ‘strong’ or ‘extreme’ impact on advancing customer relationships.” Research from the consumer’s point of view shows that “44% of consumers say that they will likely become repeat buyers after a personalized shopping experience with a particular company.”

However, despite the positive impact of personalization, a 2019 Harris Poll shows that 44% of marketers name personalization as their biggest challenge in delivering exceptional customer experiences.

A major advantage behind the rapid API adoption and development is its ability to allow companies to share, analyze, and use internal and third-party data to personalize user experiences. API-led personalization ranges from financial services, customer communications, content experiences, and asset search.

Moreover, APIs can make personalization possible for businesses of all sizes. For instance, Constant Content currently uses the Shutterstock API to deliver personalized image recommendations for its users. The business impact of this feature is reflected in their 37% increase in image sales in 2018, with a near-zero percentage refund rate.


Given that developers use 10-15 APIs per application on average, APIs now play a role in habituating user behavior and expectations. Businesses focused on delivering optimal user experiences have taken notice and action.

The need to adapt to user expectations has lead a number of martech platforms to turn to API solutions such as the Shutterstock API to streamline workflows and increase retention. To learn more about how the Shutterstock API can help you stay ahead of the curve, contact us today.

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