“The documents web is dead, long live the data web!” This could be the motto of UK startup import.io. The company claims to be able to transform any web page into a useable Application Programming Interface.

[TC Disrupt'13] import.io Transforms any Website Content into an API

Article based on interviews conducted on the sidelines of Techcrunch Disrupt Europe 2013, held in Berlin in late October.

By 2018, over 85% of all companies will have an API programme in place to connect their internal and external applications. This prediction is made in a recent study from Layer 7 Technologies. Meanwhile, between data storage and other types of services, the Big Data market should be worth $8.9 million this year and is expected to grow to close to $24.6 billion by 2016, according to a report from Indian company Transparency Market Research. This will be a lucrative opportunity for companies that position themselves correctly.  UK start-up import.io* seems to have grasped this and has set out to make the huge amounts of data accessible to anyone and everyone. As a first step, the company has launched a tool that enables you to turn a mass of data available anywhere on the web into an API or readable data tables. And you will be able to do this in just a few minutes. “At the moment, if you want this type of information, you need specialised developers who know how to manipulate very complex codes. Our idea is to save you time,” pointed out Sally Hadidi, a Marketing Associate at import.io.

Transform any website into an API

The basic principle is to transform any web page content into an API. In practice, the tool comes in the form of a sort of browser. At the Berlin event, import.io also launched a Chrome extension, their ‘data factory’ that gives users access to the company’s own APIs, which can be used instead of the import.io browser. Once you have subscribed to the service, you can download the dedicated browser, use it to paste the link to the site from where you wish to take the data and structure it into an API, and begin to select the fields on the site which are of interest. Import.io offers users a variety of structures for presenting the data: a product page, a search list, a table of data, among other possibilities, and thus delivers an API, which can be exported in HTML, CSV or .xls format. “Currently companies that have many products often don’t even have access to their own back end. They also want to know what’s happening with their competitors, and this is what we can provide,” explained import.io investor and spokesmanEmmanuel Javal.

Data-download equivalent of Napster

In short this service provides a sort of business intelligence system, at low cost. The service is free of charge, rather like a price-comparison site. “What you can do with [Paris-based price comparison site] Kelkoo, for example, any company or individual person would be capable of doing, and without needing staff with any special technical skills,” stresses Javal. During the pitch in Berlin, import.io co-founder Andrew Fogg gave the example of HP, which uses an API in this way to track all its distributors and ensure they are not practising unauthorised discounting. Emmanuel Javal compares the import.io service to Napster. Napster enabled free music downloads, import.io intends to do the same thing for data. “The data is available, but it’s trapped or unstructured. The idea is to create a pipeline between data users and data owners: that’s import.io.” The startup has set itselfthe ambitious target of seeing 15,000 APIs created by the end of the year using its system. There remains of course the little matter of how to monetise the service. “The service is free of charge. For the time being it’s important to get the word out,” says Javal.  So this looks like one to watch.  It’s a fair bet that import.io will find a way to cash in to some extent on this pot of gold before too long.

*import.io was one of the four finalists in the StartupBattlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe

By Lila Meghraoua
Journaliste/Productrice radio