Michael Schneider is CEO of Mobile Roadie, the leading self-service mobile app platform. With more than 16 million users, Mobile Roadie powers over 3,000 apps for some of the world’s most popular artists and brands.

You don’t need to own app development software — you just think you do.

Often a business encounters one of two scenarios: Either a company is hesitant to go with a development platform because it’s so much cheaper than building an app from scratch. (“If it’s so cheap, something must be wrong.”) They feel they need to “own” the app and source code. Or companies rely on in-house IT departments for development projects, even when they don’t need to.

When a brand new industry emerges (such as SaaS app builders), it takes time for companies to realize that, many times, it’s not cheaper. Over time, this problem will correct itself, in much the same way that WordPress, Tumblr, Square Space and others have become acceptable solutions for building a website, despite their low costs.

On the other hand, IT departments that think they can do it all can actually be dangerous for the companies that employ them. If you’re a technology company, meaning tech is your main business and not just a function within a larger organization, perhaps it does make sense to try and build in-house. But for most organizations, IT groups simply exist to serve the larger purpose of the business, likely something other than tech.

Saying no to an in-house IT department that wants to build mobile may take courage, but it may be in the organization’s best interests.

Or companies may insist: The price is right, IT agrees that it should outsource app creation, but they want to own the source code. This is equivalent to telling Microsoft that you want to use Windows, but that you need the source code to seal the deal. This often derails otherwise great use of app platforms, and causes the organization to build from scratch when, in reality, the organization does not need to own the source code.

Mobile moves at lightning speed. If you own the source code when Apple and Google come out with new versions of iOS and Android, it’s up to you to build in new features and make sure your app is up to snuff. And with new phones and software versions coming out monthly, this can be a daunting and expensive task.

In these three instances, building an app from scratch makes sense.

  1. If it’s your core business to be in the app market.
  2. If you’re trying to build a game.
  3. If your needs are truly, highly custom.

However, if your app is content-driven, there is no good reason to build something from scratch, or to own the source code. There are many impressive platforms on which to build content-based apps, with great viral sharing features, media, gamification and more — at a fraction of the cost and time it takes to build from the ground up. So, stop your IT department from trying to do it all.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, sndr

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David Tucker is a principal architect at Universal Mind. As the resident Apple and Adobe expert, he works closely with Universal Mind’s clients to develop rich user experiences that leverage many of today’s exciting new development platforms. Follow David on Twitter @mindmillmedia.

Many companies have mobile apps at the top of their to-do lists, but while churning out a quick app is fairly straightforward, developing a strategic application or digital “solution” is considerably more complex. Smart planning is essential.

Here are 10 things to consider before developing your app.


1. Agree on goals for the program.


When developing a digital solution strategy, first examine your organization’s goals for the program. Are you looking to be seen as innovator, or fend off competition by showing progress in the space? Simply showing initial momentum and previewing the future roadmap can often place you ahead of the competition. Should your digital solutions help build customer loyalty and enable greater customer self-service, or is your highest priority to create new revenue streams? Once you’ve agreed on the goals, prioritize them so you’ll know where to start.


2. Understand your target users.


The next step is to understand who your target users are, their goals and requirements, and the technologies they use. This process includes researching the platforms your users are most likely utilizing, then gaining an understanding of each user experience. Every device is different, and every user has multiple needs. For example, a person might typically use an online banking application to pay a bill, but he might use the bank’s mobile application to find the closest ATM.


3. Build a user testing focus group.


Spending time with your target users is the only way to ensure you really understand what they are looking for in a mobile application. As you move through the process of discovery, you can discuss ideas with this group on a daily basis. Focus groups can provide value from the far beyond the initial discovery phase.


4. Identify a minimally viable solution set.


Don’t try to tackle the whole problem at once. Instead, companies should identify a minimally viable solution and start there. In other words, release a basic but functional app as a foundation, then take advantage of the efficient upgrade paths most devices offer to provide regular updates. This enables you to enter the market more quickly and refine as needed. Plus, periodically giving your users access to new developments ensures your organization stays top-of-mind.


5. Plan for multiple releases.


With mobile applications, releasing the initial version is only the beginning. Statistics show that many users will re-engage with your application when new features are added. Spread key functionality across the first handful of releases to keep your users engaged. Be careful not to release too often, lest users feel bombarded. In many cases, a 2-3 month window between major releases will keep your users engaged over a longer period of time.


6. Balance your users and your business.


Balancing business drivers with real user needs can be difficult. In many cases, the two are at odds with one another. Therefore, arm yourself with the right information to make smart tradeoffs. Collect research such as user studies, expert opinions, and business viability and technical feasibility studies. This body of data can then be weighed to achieve the best balance between user-centric solutions and business-value gains.


7. Know what is out there.


Spend time exploring apps in each of the platforms you plan to support. Each platform offers different interface paradigms and a different collection of applications. Experimenting with the most popular applications will help you understand not only what is possible on the platform, but also the user’s expectations. If possible, use a different mobile platform device during the exploration process.


8. Bring your IT team into the discussions early.


The far greater technical challenge is tying your backend business processes to a digital solution that encompasses smartphones and kiosks, for example. The technology infrastructure for a multichannel solution goes well beyond the platform you choose for front-end development. In order to be successful, companies must consider how to architect data delivery and API management as well as security, scalability, content aggregation, device optimization, API translation, etc. Bring your IT team into the discussion before you get too far down the planning path.


9. Decide on a technology you can live (and grow) with.


As the mobile space matures, there will be many more application develop choices. In many cases, your goals will help determine what you choose here. For example, if your goal is to reach as many users as possible across all platforms, you may choose an HTML framework with little hardware integration. If your goal is to provide deep hardware integration for augmented reality technology, then you’ll probably develop a native application. Decisions around technology can directly affect your app’s functionality.


10. Plan to analyze.


The final step in the process is determining how to measure success. With a morass of potential features, devices, platforms and technologies, success can be challenging to define, but it will affect your ultimate strategy. Consider the following questions.

  • Will this increase our transaction volume and, therefore, revenue?
  • Will this increase customer adoption and retention?
  • Will this increase our brand recognition and loyalty?
  • Will this decrease our costs?
  • How many people do we want using our app?
  • How do we want to integrate the solution with our social media program?
  • How will we integrate with our existing analytics tools?

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, TommyL, Nikada

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Ryan Martens is the founder and CTO of Rally Software, which provides agile application lifecycle management solutions and services to software developers. Rally is Ryan’s fourth software startup. Follow him on Twitter @RallyOn.

Unfortunately, Twitter and Facebook have become real-time streams of rotten tomato throwing.

Just ask Bank of America, which encountered wrath from its Facebook customers when it decided to tack on monthly debit card fees. Or Virgin America, when its site crash and subsequent system failure ignited a blaze of ticked-off fliers.

We all know the drill: You’re supposed to listen to your customers in social media, engage them authentically, and act like the human you are, not the company you represent. But I’m here to add that engaging with customers after they start using your product isn’t enough. You simply can’t wait until customers start getting mad and yelling at you online to change your product or strategy. At that point, it’s too late. 

Given the ability to reach customers and prospects via social networks, it’s now easier than ever to embrace customers in your product development process. Changing this process may not save you from the inevitable system failures, but it will help you avoid the slip-up phases typically associated with releasing new products or services. 

Users rule the world now; therefore, businesses must be more responsive by using agile and lean practices. Here are three simple steps to guarantee the development of desirable products and services.


1. Find Your Earlyvangelists


Today’s smart company asks lots of questions up front. The brand involves its customers in the product development process from the very beginning. Often called the “customer development model,” the premise is described by Steven Blank in The Four Steps to the Epiphany

Blank describes earlyvangelists as “a special breed of customers willing to take a risk on your startup’s products or service because they can actually envision its potential to solve a critical and immediate problem.”


2. Build a Minimum Viable Product


Start with bare bones. Put together a product that has the minimum bells and whistles, focusing on the must-have features only. Let your customers try it out and see what they like. Let them tell you what is missing. Let them tell you what is extraneous. Then build what really satisfies that problem, and stop there

When you solve a problem for earlyvangelists, you build a supportive customer base that will promote the product to other visionary customers.  You may now consider whether this product is desirable for an even larger market. 

In the software world, agile and lean software development methodologies leverage fast feedback from customers. Google’s product cycle is a pretty classic example of this customer-focused approach. Gmail Labs was designed to tighten the feedback loop between users and developers, so that it could learn quickly what people liked and disliked. It took out the extra step of having to go to a customer support forum or email a representative, and let users communicate directly with developers. This experiment greatly increased the frequency and quality of feedback, which in turn, allowed Google to rapidly improve Gmail and its suite of apps. 

Eric Ries’s book, The Lean Startup goes into these concepts in great detail, explaining how applying a combination of agile customer development methods and lean social media engagement can create a true collection of thinking and acting tools for today’s complex world. 


3. Release, Iterate and Repeat 


Once you have a desirable initial product, you can begin to test extension and offers into other markets and user segments. Using tools like KISS Metrics, you can now easily track the conversion metrics based on different offers to different segments before you build. This type of market feedback allows you to bring back “validated learnings” to the product team.  It lets you co-develop your market in the most capital-efficient and viral way possible.  

This is where the value of agile development kicks in. The short growth cycles that adapt to both positive and negative feedback let you steer your product into the segments without wasting precious development cycles. 

Surprisingly, many companies aren’t really embracing customer development yet. Maybe because they’re still afraid of what lies beyond company walls. If you have not figured out how to energize or support your customer base in 21st century social networks, then you might be very cautious with customer development.

So knock those walls down and begin truly embracing customers and prospects early in your development process. It’s clear that users rule, but they need you to make projects affordable and scalable first. Otherwise, be prepared for a social media rotten tomato storm.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Mableen

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Android Image

Carmen Delessio is CTO of Layercake, an NYC startup focused on helping parents to quickly and easily manage their photos and digital memories. Request a beta invite at GetLayercake.com. Carmen’s Kindle Fire and other apps can be found at BffMedia.com.

My $99 Logitech Revue was just upgraded to the latest version of Google TV. My “go to” tablet these days is Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire. These are both Android devices and are examples of the platform’s recent fragmentation.

Android fragmentation highlights include:

  • 5 OS versions on devices (Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, and Ice Cream Sandwich)
  • Devices in various sizes, from small phones to TVs
  • Device manufacturers branching their own versions of Android

Amazon’s Kindle Fire is an example of a device with a manufacturer’s custom version of Android. This splintering has caused real concern among developers.

Android fragmentation is most often compared to Apple’s closed ecosystem for iOS. Apple iPhone and iPad developers can deliver pixel-perfect apps and be assured the apps will just work. Android’s multiple sizes, OS versions and branching make that pixel-perfect delivery difficult for developers.

But there are some positives of Android fragmentation from a developer standpoint. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons.


Pros for Developers


  • Kindle Fire is showing strong sales
  • Amazon has a dedicated market for the Kindle Fire
  • Developers can design for a specific device
  • Apps on TV are cool
  • Low penetration in the TV app market means it’s easier to get noticed
  • The Android compatibility package and “fragments” address the issue of OS fragmentation (more on this below)
  • New revenue models are available

Cons for Developers


  • Too many devices running different operating systems
  • Need multiple designs for your apps
  • Too many apps in the Android Market
  • In general, Android users pay for fewer apps
  • Android tablet sales are poor
  • Google TV has not enjoyed mainstream success yet
  • TV apps are new and unproven

App Markets


App markets are a key to platform and developer success. The Amazon Android market on the Kindle Fire is the first significant alternate Android market for consumers. There are other options out there, but Amazon puts together the device and the market and curates the apps. This is quite like Apple’s process. Though built on Android, the Kindle Fire is a device that lives in a closed ecosystem. With more than 4 million units sold, the Kindle Fire deserves developer attention.

Similarly, an app market has just recently appeared on Google TV. Sony devices received the app market in November 2011 and the Logitech Revue received the update in December. It is only now that a developer can see his Android apps in a TV market.


Kindle Fire


I believe in the numbers. Kindle Fire will be the most successful Android tablet in the foreseeable future. There are plenty of consumers out there who just use and trust Amazon. TV ads and the Amazon site will be their introduction to the tablet world.

The $199 price tag and focus on the device as a reader and video player make the Kindle Fire a consumer device worthy of attention regardless of lackluster reviews.

Amazon knows how to sell, and that is an opportunity for developers. We can hope that making a good app for this device will drive sales.


Google TV


Apps look great on TV. As a developer, it’s fun to see your app on a big screen, especially if you’re working with photos or videos.

The availability of a marketplace drives growth and consumer acceptance. The recent upgrade provides the first real opportunity to develop and market apps for a Google TV. There is a window of opportunity for developers to stand out from the crowd before media companies and others really get into the game.

Google TV provides the potential for new revenue models. Advertising on TV apps is an unknown, but showing an in-app ad on the big screen may be more compelling than a 40-pixel mobile banner. Promoting your own phone and tablet apps within a TV app is an idea that seems worth pursuing. It is common to have a free advertising supported app and a paid app, but maybe a free TV app and paid apps on all other platforms is the way to go. We can speculate quite a bit about apps for TV, but one thing is certainly true — you can’t take it with you.


Technical Solutions


Google has done a lot to address fragmentation. One of the few times I thought Google showed a sense of humor as a company was when they added a new feature called “Fragments” to the Android Honeycomb release. Fragments provide the ability to create and reuse sections of the screen as UI components. In one app, a fragment may take up the full screen on a phone and just part of the screen on a tablet.

Google has provided a compatibility library that further addresses Android OS fragmentation. The library supports fragments and commonly used features for Android 1.6 to 3.x. A single code base can support Eclair through Ice Cream Sandwich.


Design and Targeting Devices


As screen sizes are factored in, the development task becomes design dependent. While Android provides great support for designs that work on multiple screen sizes, it can still be more challenging than the pixel-perfect closed iPhone system.

One option is to target a specific device. I’ll admit a guilty pleasure in developing an app just for the Kindle Fire. Based on the market size and technical spec, it seems worthwhile. Knowing that I could create and test an app on a single device and that it would look great on every Kindle Fire is very gratifying. It’s a small taste of how iPhone designers and developers must feel.

Google TV and Android tablet apps have a lot in common. Depending on your design, they may be exactly the same. Creating a TV app may lead you to releasing a tablet app because … you might as well.


Conclusions


A developer has the capability to create a single app for all devices using available technology. I suspect a common approach will be to use fragments and the compatibility library, which offer a significant amount of common code across a phone, Kindle Fire, and tablet/TV releases.

Having three or four products in the market may make more sense financially as well. An app called “Great App (Kindle Fire Edition)” may share 95 to 100% of the code with an app called “Great App (Google TV Version).” Rather than comparing that to iOS development, compare it to the work that web developers do to create websites that work well in five or six different browsers.

The opportunity to use newer Android versions and tools will help new developers get up to speed. The compatibly package and fragments will help those developers support multiple devices. The availability of Kindle Fire and Google TV offer two new markets for apps. Right now, the rewards for developing on new platforms for Android outweigh the risks.

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After rolling out Google+ and sneak previewing a revamped Gmail interface, now Google has redesigned YouTube with new features that are more than skin deep.

Announced Thursday on the YouTube Blog, the new Youtube interface is an experiment that Google is calling “Cosmic Panda,” and unlike Google+, this one’s open to everyone.

Gone is that white background underneath the video player, replaced by a less-distracting dark gray backdrop. At the bottom of that frame are four new icons that let you conveniently change the video frame size. There are new page designs and improved editing tools to customize channels. Best of all, when you’re using Google Chrome, you can keep one video playing while you’re looking for others, switching between channels or playlists.

Another improvement is the ability to choose whether you see comments or not, with buttons allowing you to dismiss comments and fill the page below the video player with suggested videos that are each in larger frames. In addition, Cosmic Panda makes it easier to edit a channel template, giving users a choice of layouts for creators, bloggers, networks and a general-use template Google calls “everything.”

Unfortunately, Google’s YouTube player has retained the old transport controls from the previous YouTube interface, and there’s no icon to click to incrementally skip forward or backward. You can still do that with the slider control underneath the video, but as you can see in our gallery of screenshots below, on this new version, the zone where you can click to skip forward or backward is even smaller than that area on the old version.

Even with those quibbles, I think the new YouTube interface is a significant improvement over the current one. What do you think? Go ahead, try it yourself at Google’s Cosmic Panda page. And don’t worry — if you don’t like it, you can easily change back to the old YouTube interface.

Suggested Videos Interface

Notice the bigger thumbnails.

YouTube interface

Browsing a channel

Comments visible, but with a click…

Suggested videos only, no comments

Click “suggested videos” and the comments disappear, which might be a relief given the savage nature of many YouTube comments.

Old slider

New slider, slightly thinner

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Devs, if you participate in the hacker community and make significant contributions to open-source projects, startup Work for Pie has come up with a simple way to showcase your involvement.

The WFP team has developed a score similar in ways to a Klout score. But these scores take into account things like your contributions to Hacker News, StackOverflow, Github, Bitbucket and other dev-centric communities. And if you do a lot of open-source development, all the better for your own score.

On its website, WFP states it wants to “incentivize meaningful participation and contribution. Our scoring system does just that, and soon you’ll be able to see how you stack up against your friends and against the very best. It’s an indication of your participation and performance, but it’s also a challenge.”

Of course, the startup recognizes there are many ways to measure hacker greatness, and these types of community involvement are just one way. The scores are weighted to favor involvement in and contribution to open source projects. Right now, WFP is gathering data from Github and Bitbucket and may consider adding other sites, too.

SEE ALSO: HOW TO: Hire (or Be Hired as) a Team of Devs

Some dev-centric community sites have built-in scoring mechanisms of their own, and WFP uses these scores in developing their own. For example, the algorithm takes into account a user’s StackOverflow reputation and Hacker News karma, although the latter site gets less weight overall.

WFP scores range from 1 to 100. Currently, the highest score on the site is a 79.

In addition to calculating and displaying a developer’s score, a WFP profile can also show off his or her code projects, language and framework skills, general bio, work experience, and more.

WFP allows users to very simply enter usernames to grab publicly available data from the aforementioned developer sites. The profiles also link up nicely with existing social and personal accounts on Facebook and Google.

The more complete a WFP profile is, the more it looks and behaves as an interactive coder’s resume and showcase. Here’s an example from a top-scored WFP user:

The team will eventually allow users to customize profiles with their own colors, typefaces and background images with a WYSIWYG editor.

In an email to Mashable, WFP co-founder Cliff McKinney writes, “Our immediate plans are to get the latest version of our profiles rolled out within the next two weeks and then to consider adding additional code repositories to our algorithm.”

“Eventually, of course, we want to use what we’ve built to connect companies to awesome developers and vice versa, but we’re definitely focusing on making the portfolios awesome first.”

Here’s a sneak peek at the next iteration of WFP profiles, which will also include a breakdown of the score for code, community and Q&A involvement:

Work for Pie

Work for Pie

Work for Pie

Work for Pie was part of Memphis-based incubator Seed Hatchery earlier this spring.

Top image courtesy of iStockphoto user nullplus

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Hacking for social good is more than just a hacktivist reaction to injustice. Many developers and designers are taking a proactive approach to affecting social change by making web apps that aim to improve individual lives and whole communities, too.

At a recent event in San Francisco, about 100 hackers of all stripes gathered to do exactly that: work around the clock for 24 hours to create apps for social good. This resulted in 17 (still quite new) web and mobile applications with a slightly higher aim than that of your average consumer app.

The hackathon, called Hack for Change, was sponsored by Change.org, and was intended to allow some of the smartest people in the Bay Area to create “any feature or app that does good.”

Most of the apps are not yet launched, but you can click through on the links below for early access and sign-ups.

SEE ALSO: Hacking for Good: Three Ways for Devs to Get Involved

The winners of the day, all of whom received a small cash infusion to help continue building and launching their apps, were three stellar ideas from local devs.

The first-place winner was Good Neighbor, which lets users get quick SMS messages when their neighbors “need a hand with quick tasks or errands.”

Runners-up were FindMeAPet and AnonyMouse. The former is a simple SMS app that notifies users when new dogs arrive at nearby animal shelters. AnonyMouse’s goal is to help people looking for anonymous advice to find guidance and mentorship. Initially, the site will be geared toward closeted LGBT folks.

Other apps built during the hackathon include:

  • AnonyMissing, an anonymous location-based app to report missing persons.
  • Corrupt, an app for tracking and reporting corruption in your area.
  • GoChipIn, which allows users to find volunteers for events they’re organizing.
  • GovContrib, a browser tool that helps users find information on government contributions to charities and lobbies.
  • IGotUGot, a food exchange for home gardeners.
  • PDB, which stands for “personal daily brief,” the kind current and former U.S. presidents receive. These briefs are tailored to each user’s locations and interests.
  • Picketline.us lets would-be activists share the word about boycotts.
  • Piece of Mind aims to create a Kickstarter-funded mosaic of stories from veterans.
  • Safehood lets users keep an eye on their neighborhoods through web and mobile interfaces.
  • ShoppingAdvisor shows users how their decisions as consumers might be affecting the rest of the world.
  • GreatDebate helps community leaders and activists get connected with policy and decision makers.
  • WhatsaboutmyCity is an app for identifying and fixing finite, local problems in a community.

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Hack for Change

Image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Top image courtesy of Flickr, kshep

Disclosure: Mashable is a media partner of Hack for Change.

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If you’re a .NET dev who likes the sound of predictive bug-squashing, you might want to give Armadillo a shot.

This handy tool runs in the background and analyzes your code, flagging lines that need to be corrected. It follows you as you test your code and creates a safety net, protecting your work from regression bugs.

Armadillo creates validation scenarios that are continuously verified as you modify your code. If a bug is found, Armadillo pinpoints it so you can debug the code in question without running the whole app.

And best of all, as the software learns more scenarios, it is able to prevent more bugs. Armadillo will also show you unverified code so you can add validation scenarios yourself.

Armadillo works on Windows machines and can be used with Visual C# on Visual Studio 2010 to prevent bugs in WPF, WinForms and Console applications. ASP .NET and SharePoint scenarios protection is coming soon for web app support.

You can get a 21-day free trial, or you can subscribe for $25 each month. Commercial licenses, ideal for .NET shops, are $299 plus a $99 annual maintenance fee.

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Fitness app developer RunKeeper has made its API available to the public, enabling developers to make use of its “Health Graph,” which organizes and correlates a variety of health and fitness data.

RunKeeper’s Health Graph integrates fitness sensor data, such as GPS trackers, Wi-Fi body scales, sleep monitoring devices and heart-rate transmitters, with eating habits, workout schedules, social interactions and more to help users track and understand their health and fitness choices in a holistic, highly correlated manner.

RunKeeper’s apps for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7 can help users understand how their social habits affect their sleep and workout patterns, which in turn affects their health.

Now device manufacturers and app developers — including launch partners Foursquare and Zeo — can tap into this same data, as well as RunKeeper’s social features, like its FitnessFeed and sharing integrations with Facebook and Twitter. Founder Jason Jacobs explains the API in a blog post.

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Startup Mashape launched a marketplace for APIs of all kinds Thursday.

For startups looking to create or license their web-based products, an API marketplace is a boon. It allows for quick publicizing and discovery of APIs, and lets its users easily match them to developers’ needs. Mashape is also launching a simple billing system and social features for API providers.

“Most of the value of information technology will be delivered and sold via APIs in the near future; and not only services but also things connected to the Internet,” Mashape co-founder Augusto Marietti said in a release. “We just want to build the ecosystem to let this happen, faster.”

The marketplace already has more than 110 APIs, including tools for SMS, geolocation, music services, photo filters, travel, games and a great deal more.

SEE ALSO: Mashable’s Series on API Management

API providers can list any JSON API using a wizard interface and five auto-generated client libraries (PHP, Ruby, Python, Obj-C and Java) and API tools.

And API consumers can use any Mashape-listed API with a single developer key and a standardized interface. There’s also an online Test Console for playing around with APIs before committing to use one.

If you’d like to give the Mashape marketplace a shot, just use the coupon code Mashable to get into the beta now.

Image based on a photo from iStockphoto user alxpin.

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