FreshBooks adopts Facebook-style API strategy

An 18-year-old University of Nebraska college student and a small San Diego, Calif.-based mobile expense tracking company have developed the first commercial add-ons to Toronto-based FreshBooks’ online invoicing service.

FreshBooks allows its customers to create, send and manage online invoices, payments and recurring billing. The FreshBooks application programming interface (API) allows customers’ account data to be accessed using HTTP and XML. The API also enables programmers such as Cory Becker, who recently opened up Omaha, Neb.-based Becker Web Solutions LLC after graduating from high school, the ability to create Web and desktop applications that integrate with an account.

Not unlike the Facebook Platform, which provides a framework for developers to create applications for the Palo-Alto, Calif.-based social networking site, Becker has created two FreshBooks’ plug-ins for us use in his own business as well as for his clients.

The first is a client enrollment plug-in, which creates a form on the client’s Web site allowing perspective customers to set themselves up as new clients in the customer’s FreshBooks account. His more elaborate project is an employee project manager add-on which he originally created for Doral, Fl.-based IT and business consultancy IAC Professionals Inc.

“They had 28 employees and were using FreshBooks to manage their employee timesheets,” Becker said. “With the API, I created this external timesheet and project manager, so they can now create projects for a client and also delegate those tasks to each employee. The employees have their own login and can go on the site, find the task they need to work on and clock in.”

Another FreshBooks add-on, from San Diego, Calif.-based Xpenser, allows FreshBooks customers the ability to create invoices from mobile devices. Parand Darugar, CEO at Xpenser, said integrating the Xpenser plug-in will allow professionals to record their expenses on the road via e-mail, PDA, SMS text message, instant message or voice.

“Let’s say you take a taxi to the airport, you would really like to record the expense right then and there,” Darugar said. “If you have a BlackBerry, you could send an e-mail with the subject taxi, ’32 dollars from office to airport.’ Or you could just call a number and phone the expense in to the system.”

Darugar said through Xpenser, users can export the data to any applications, including Quicken. He said the goal of the plug-in is to be compatible in today’s “the multi-model and multi-interface world.”

To continue the theme of community building, Sunir Shah, marketing and community development manager at FreshBooks said the company is looking to start a project at the University of Toronto aimed at challenging students to build Google widgets on top of the API.

“The full project will help them discover market, go to our customers, find interested parties, build a prototype, and test it,” Shah said. “We also want to teach them to finish it off with polish and aesthetics as well as design a social Web 2.0 component to it.”

Shah said the project is still in the pitch stages, but is optimistic for its launch next year.

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