If I was on the marketing team, I’d start this off by sayingg about how Unsplash isn’t ‘Just Another Stock Photo’ site and everything we do is to foster that connection people have with the photos.
But I’m a developer. And while I wholeheartedly agree that Unsplash’s success is 100% thanks to the community of people around it, I see the site in a different light.
I spend my days building the parts of Unsplash that most of you won’t ever see but that are integral to it staying a fast, easy-to-use resource for high-quality photos.
As someone who is very much a software developer and not at all a designer or photographer, my goal has always been to open up ways for other people to make things with Unsplash, which is why we built our API.
Unsplash.com is beautiful—something I can claim precisely 0% credit for (that’s all Kirill and Luke). But pleasant though it may be for humans, we robots computers have a much harder time using it. So the API exists, essentially, as a machine-readable version of the website.
In the past few months since launching the Unsplash API, our traffic has grown week on week, with 2100 signed up as developers to use the API and 1200 apps created.
Some of the incredible uses we’ve seen for the API
- Over: Put quotes over top of photos with the option of those photos being automatically pulled from Unsplash.
I definitely use this one on our monthly Make Day. I take great joy in juxtaposing the photography on Unsplash with quotes from my favorite 80’s action movies.
- Marvel App: Uses Unsplash as a library of photos to import into your app mockups/prototypes.
- Irvue: Automatically set your desktop wallpaper to Unsplash photos.
- Shameless self-promotion: Unsplash Instant. Pretty pictures in your new Chrome tabs.
There’s even a list of apps made with Unsplash on Product Hunt.
While the outcome has been more than we’d hoped for, a lot of thought went into the potential use cases and the strain they would put on us back home.
Why we made 2 different APIs
There’s so many different use cases where developers might want to make Unsplash’s library available to their users. This isn’t just for wallpapers and blog article banner photos; it also means apps and sites that want to let their users directly import Unsplash photos to edit and change or use to make something new.
With this in mind, the first thing we built was a very dev-focused full json-only API. In a nutshell, this just means making a way for other apps to interface with the Unsplash library and its core features. Think Over allowing their users to import Unsplash photos directly and then modify them using their app.
While that continues to grow, we soon realized there was a middle-ground of users who maybe didn’t know how or didn’t have the time to implement the more complex interface when all they wanted to do was to embed a photo.
After a bit of thought, we built Unsplash Source, a much simpler, copy-and-paste-this-URL-for-photos version of the API.
Because the use cases are different—Source, for example, doesn’t support anything that requires a person to be signed in—both of these have been very popular. Source is great because it’s not just “embed this specific photo”. We built in a lot of support, so a single line of html can give you, say, a random photo from those you’ve liked on Unsplash, or uploaded, or from a search result, or any number of other filters.
For example, with just one URL you get a new cat photo every day (i.e., this will be perfect for your Neko Atsume fan fiction blog).
Where does it go next?
We love seeing more great uses for this API coming out almost every day. And we love seeing the steady growth of users. But if I’m being entirely honest, what really gets to my heart personally is seeing the uses that I never would have thought of.
Yes, Unsplash is all about beautiful imagery, but I’m as interested in seeing what people can do with the metadata of our photos as much as I am interested in seeing what people do with the images themselves. Maybe it’s just my inner (i.e., outer) computer nerd showing through.
For example, my favorite part of Instagram is the map of photos.
Unsplash has location and timestamp data available via the API for each photo, so why not map them? Let’s put them on charts and graphs. Filter them by camera type. Or category. And category.
Even just with the plain old EXIF data, I feel like there are interesting stories to be found in the act of the photography on Unsplash as much as in the photos themselves. And with the API giving more access to developers, I hope that we’ll start to see some of these unique use cases popping up more and more.
I love making things, but especially when it comes to software development, even more I love making tools that help other people make things too.
Since by this point you are super hyped about building something with the Unsplash API, you’ll likely be interested in our handy Getting Started guide.