OneNote API Strategy | Interview with Microsoft API Architect

By Monica Peotter in API Industry Trends Posted Apr 23, 2015

For this weeks All Things API interview, we were joined by Gareth Jones the Principal API Architect for OneNote at Microsoft. Gareth shares his knowledge on the growth of OneNote products, the importance of API adoption and how to get user adoption of your product.

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Gareth Jones, currently the Principal API Architect for OneNote, is very passionate about developer adoption and the developer experience with the OneNote API. Jones has been at Microsoft for 17 years and at OneNote for about a year and a half. Prior to OneNote, Jones was primarily focused on Visual Studio, Microsoft’s core developer toolset.     Join Meetup

Q: In your own words, describe what OneNote is all about?OneNote-1

A: Note-taking products have really taken off over the years. It is a place to write down your thoughts, memories or anything that comes to mind and to make it natural to recall those digital memories when you most need them. OneNote works for both the enterprise and the consumer marketplace, on any device. When I joined we focused on generating a strong developer program for apps for the everyday consumer.Now that that program has found success, we are adding the enterprise into the mix.


Q: Let’s chat a bit about APIs. When considering “All Things API”, what resonates with you?

A: All things are becoming APIs. Opportunities are popping up in the space all the time. First, there is a thriving new way to do app development, when facing the buy- vs build-decision. You are no longer having to make that choice, you can decide we are going to build the core logic ourselves and rely on partnering with APIs to finalize our app’s functionality. It’s completely transformative. There is less technology and more business. Furthermore, the API explosion has allowed businesses to turn into mashups not just monolithic software. You can take the core software you have in one domain and then spin it into a completely different direction.


Q:How would you describe your product strategy?

A: OneNote has been around for about 12 years and it always has had APIs on the client side, traditionally thought of as the Windows side. Single platform client extensibility was a relatively small audience. Since we moved cross-platform and opened up our REST APIs, that has driven a lot of great relationships with app and hardware vendors. For example, the rise of mobile scanners has increased user adoption and led to OneNote becoming highly cooperative with printing and scanning technologies. For example, you can now easily scan and directly store in OneNote, with a simple and easy to use interface. With Genius Scan, you can use a smartphone as a document scanner and push to APIs. Our API-focused product strategy has enabled the process of integrating into new partners that we were once not able to consider remarkably easier.


Q: How are OneNote products supported by APIs?onenote-element

A: It is quite transformative. What was once previously not known as a highly extensible product has now opened up to many more customer workflows. Imagine researching a new product category for your company. Now you can send articles you find on Feedly to OneNote, scan the business cards of folks you meet with Office Lens, annotate on all of them with ink and then push the notes into Salesforce for your customer accounts using Zapier. It’s all about drawing together content.


Q: Does OneNote have an open community?

A: We started out by looking how we would engage in the developer community. Traditionally, Microsoft products built a developer site, put out all the API and developer tools and hoped developer adoption would come. Kind of a “if you build it, they will come” strategy but that doesn’t work in this day and age. So we decided to go out and engage with the communities where our users were, we put code on Github, Stack Overflow and UserVoice and met developers out in the community. If you put the time and energy into the areas where people look for APIs you will find some success. The key is to enable developers to get up and running quickly with your APIs. We measure our success with the range of partners who sign up through our app portal, and we’re opening that up to an even wider set of folks with the announcement of our enterprise roadmap.

Q: What’s your advice for developers to drive adoption? What are best practices?

A: It is important to focus on the on-boarding experience. Make sure that people are working successfully with your product within the first hour. If you can’t walk up to your website, understand the product and what the capabilities are; or get started easily, it is going to be hard to get people to use your product. Walk in your buyers and users shoes and get your message across.