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We Call it “Tin Can”

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Categories:, Standards, xAPI

Posted 11 December 2012


“Tin Can API” vs “Experience API”
You may have heard that ADL issued an official name for the Tin Can API. They call it “The Experience API”.

This move is generating a lot of confusion. Is it the “Tin Can API”? Or, is it the “Experience API”?

Rustici Software is going to call it the “Tin Can API”.

Unfortunately, as a government organization ADL has to play by a stricter set of rules than the rest of us. Bureaucracy has them stuck with an official name of “Experience API” that they commonly refer to as “Experience API (xAPI)”.

We gave it a lot of thought. Here’s why we are sticking with “Tin Can”:

  • There is too much momentum behind the name “Tin Can” for it to change now. “Tin Can” is what people know. It is what the community wants to call it.
  • ADL will be transferring ownership of the spec to a public standards body after v1.0 is complete this Spring. After that transfer, we don’t expect the official government name “Experience API” to last much longer.
  • From a branding perspective, “Tin Can” is a better, more identifiable name.
  • It would require a large effort for the community to effectively rebrand itself. Those efforts would be better used to improve the spec and encourage real adoption.

Why Rename the Spec?
In 2010, ADL issued Rustici Software a research grant to propose an experience API. This experience API was the first requirement for creating ADL’s “Training and Learning Architecture (TLA)”.

Rustici Software conducted that research project under the codename “Project Tin Can” and submitted the “Tin Can API” as the result.

ADL looked at the “Tin Can API” alongside several other options and decided that the “Tin Can API” best fulfilled the requirements for its experience API component of the TLA.

Thus in the bureaucracy’s eyes, there is a master plan for a Training and Learning Architecture that contains an experience API. In today’s incarnation, the “Experience API” is currently implemented by the “Tin Can API”. It is conceivable that at a later date, the requirements of the Experience API could be fulfilled by a different protocol.

In their eyes, it’s not a new name, it’s just the original official name.

Meanwhile, the industry recognizes that the “Tin Can API” provides a solution to many of its problems and continues its rush to adopt it.

Is Rustici Software’s Decision Final?
No decision is ever final, but “Tin Can” is what we are going with for the foreseeable future. If reason #1 above changes and the community decides to call it “Experience API” we will likely go along.

A Word About Trademarks
As part of Project Tin Can, Rustici Software applied for trademarks to protect the name “Tin Can API”. The USPTO is currently processing these applications and we expect formal trademarks to be awarded soon. In May 2012, Questionmark raised some very valid concerns about our ownership of these trademarks.

We publicly stated then, and will reiterate here, that we consider these trademarks to be property of ADL. We have already asked ADL to begin the process of transferring them to government control.

Rustici Software has no interest in maintaining proprietary control over these trademarks nor do we have any intention of using them for competitive advantage. We simply registered them because we felt it a prudent part of our research project to protect the resultant intellectual property. We were following the precedent set by CTC when they developed SCORM many years ago.

As we stated in May, if you would like for us to provide more explicit and legally binding assurances regarding use of the Tin Can trademarks, please just let us know.

  • Thanks for the post Mike. Very clear and thorough.

  • Paul Esch

    The name change of some weeks ago never felt completely natural for me. Mike made a good decision. It was the ‘de facto’ name anyway. Only time will tell which name will stick, eventually.

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  • This discussion is coming up again on Twitter, but the nuances of it are far to complicated for 140 character responses. I’ll address responses to some of the tweets here and invite others to comment as well. It’s a welcome debate and one that we should have openly and honestly for the good of all involved. I still personally feel strongly that it is the right choice to continue to call it xAPI, but I always welcome a good debate.

    Original Twitter thread:

    @fugu13: .@mike_rustici what sealed it w us is person after person telling us being about experiences is far more meaningful to them #xapi #TinCanAPI

    We’ve had this naming conversation many times with all kinds of people and we give it a lot of thought. The rationale you’re giving is a common one that is favored by technically oriented people. Marketing and brand oriented people have a very different point of view.

    The argument comes down to whether a semantic name that precisely describes the technology is better than an abstract name that creates a unique brand.

    Geeks love precise names. Our world is filled with precise technical names that get abbreviated into cute acronyms (at which point the acronym often becomes the abstract word that is the brand and the technical name is lost).

    Marketers love unique names. They love names that stick with you, especially ones that invoke positive imagery.

    I’m a geek and I love geeks, but when it comes to picking a name, I have to side with the marketers.

    To me, it also cuts right to the heart of what we want this thing to be. Do we want it to be just a technical standard that facilitates technical communication of learning experience data between systems? Or do we want it to be something more?

    xAPI has the ability to change our (corner of the) world. It is inspiring people to innovate, to think outside the box, to reshape the learning industry for the better. We should use the brand that can scale with that vision, not the brand the relegates it to a technical standard.

    @fugu13: .@mike_rustici combined w the simple fact that the org in charge names it #xapi not #tincanapi & we respect their wishes

    ADL has publicly stated that this is a community standard, that they are not in charge, but rather a community facilitator. Their goal is not to own the specification, but rather to catalyze its development through an “open source” process. Plans are already being made to transfer ownership of the spec to an open standards body. ADL considers themselves to be a community stakeholder like any other in the evolution of the specification in their role representing DoD. For them to “own” a specification is actually very problematic for them and they are trying desperately to avoid the mistake they made in “owning” SCORM that has led to much grief over the last 6-7 years.

    As a community, we all own the spec and need to be responsible for its careful care and stewardship. ADL won’t be here forever.

    ADL made a bureaucratic decision (as the government is supposed to do), but one that I personally believe is a big mistake. In my experience, you shouldn’t try to rename a brand that has already garnered momentum. As a community, we shouldn’t let bureaucracy get in the way of something that is working.

  • steve999

    Let it go, man. “xAPI” may be sounding name, but it does little to impart the meaning or the potential of the api. I love.the xAPI name, but its time to move forward with the oficial name and quit causing confusion in the industry.

  • @mobilejson: @fugu13 @mike_rustici overwhelming response from the community that the name must change! We must fix this together and stop the confusion.

    I’m not sure which side you’re arguing here. What are you saying that the name must change to? xAPI? Or Experience API? Do you really mean that it should consolidate, or that it should change?

    @mobilejson: @mike_rustici @criticallearner Right it was the R&D project name. Similar comparisons could be drawn w/ Adobe and Android project code names

    Let’s take a look at Andriod, that’s a perfect example here.

    First, let’s take a look at the name itself. It’s a real word. It has existing connotations. It’s memorable. It has a cute little icon you can picture and remember. It is a good brand.

    Google didn’t use Android as the original R&D name and then rename it to “The Open Mobile Platform (TOMP)”.

    Yes, Google uses internal code names for upcoming releases, but they don’t use code names and then change them. They use code names that are primarily internal, the leak out and catch on, and then they remain. Notice that once the name is out there in the public, the public continues to use it and nobody tries to change it.

  • Jason Haag

    The community is wanting it to be xapi now…that’s what we are hearing. Let’s chat soon! Its not ADL asking…its the community asking.

  • Clark Quinn

    Couldn’t feel more strongly that Experience API, with the short form of ‘xAPI’, is more marketable *and* more meaningful. If I am to push it, and I want to, I’d find it much easier with the Experience label.

  • Steve and Clark, you both make the argument that xAPI is better because it imparts meaning. I argued that point below in the discussion with Russell (@fugu13). A meaningful name isn’t necessarily better from a marketing perspective.

    Clark, you make the additional argument that xAPI is more marketable. Elaborate on what you think makes it marketable. What are your reasons for thinking “Experience API” is a very marketable term. Who are you marketing to?

  • Chad Udell

    Steve makes a good point here. We need to end the confusion and a standardization on what the govt is calling it is probably the right decision for everyone.

  • Andrew Downes

    Just out of interest I did a compare on Google trends again. There’s still infinitely more people searching for Experience API than for experience api.

    I really think it’s too late to change the name at this point. There’s too much adoption already.

  • Sarah C. Gilbert

    I agree. I don’t see the benefit of insisting on mixed messages. It is time for us to be consistent and Experience API is a better description.

  • Neil Lasher

    I decided i had to comment on this and have taken some time to cosider the right response.

    There was lots of chatter about this at mLearnCon, People are confused. The community doesn’t need confusion. I’m not sure why anyone would say to Microsoft, you may call it Windows, but I’m calling it squares. If the community is to win, there should be consistency. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

    I have a few views as commercially I am aware there are more searches for TinCan vs xAPI, maybe TinCanxAPI was an alternative. Now however I think we would be far better with an ISO number and no name. Publishing should be to either LMS or ‘with’ LRS and no mention if the spec.

    Mike, I hear quite clearly you consider the trademarks the property of ADL, if that’s the case then should not resolve your commercial site but be pointing at ADL. When I say a commercial site, you pages say things like:

    “Our LRS is software that is added to an existing system. It entirely takes care of the xAPI piece of the equation (the hard part) and allows for products to have their own Experience API implementations. It can be locally installed on your servers, or you can choose a cloud/hosted integration.
    The best xAPI conformance available, from the people that invented the specification.”

    Some may be upset by that last line, especially as the list if names in the spec are from lots of organisations.

    Why not start to make a level playing ground for TinCan vs xAPI and repoint the domain today, I think you may then have a more convincing argument.

  • Jason Haag

    No it is not too late. It should have already happened when the announcement was made last year. Now the community is actually wanting this change and support…not just ADL.

  • Rick Blunt

    Hi everyone, this is a great discussion because people are engaged, respectful, and polite about their comments. Thank you for that. I’ve either been a part of ADL or following ADL since it’s inception. As a not very technical guy, I was on the very peripheral edges back when Philip Dodds brought the competing masses together to mash together what would become SCORM, while being supported by the visionary Mike Parmentier.

    So, what’s in a name? What kind of name is SCORM? How many people put on their booth exhibits or marketing material “We are Shareable Content Object Reference Model” conformant? No, people said “We are SCORM conformant.” (BTW…don’t even get me started on the conformant vs. compliant argument)

    SCORM was not a word, yet became a word that had meaning as the evangelism of what ADL was trying to do spread in the industry. So, IMHO, either xAPI or xAPI can have meaning. Either can become a “brand” name. Either can succeed. I agree with several people that there needs to be a more “cohesive” messaging about the effort. Personally, I like xAPI. I think it’s “catchy.” Of course, when SCORM was being created, we initially pronounced it SCOR-UM as two syllables. We thought that was catchy…it wasn’t.

    So, apart from the politics, bureaucracy, and commercialism…what gets the point across to the vast majority of the community/industry now (and in the future)?

    Just my two cents worth.


  • JoshCav

    What’s going to happen when the standard goes global and used outside of English speaking countries? Are you just branding to users in the United States? The name “xAPI” does nothing to universally describe the API. If you take away that image of the two cans with the string – all you have left is a cheap container – a xAPI. My vote is with the Experience API (xAPI).

  • Jeff Place

    Mike and his team deserve much respect for the work accomplished to the spec release. However, if this were truly open, then we’d stop this publicity stunt. All of this chatter has certainly created awareness, but at the same time there’s far too much confusion.

    The specific achievable action must be for Mike and his team to hand over the name/trademark to the ADL, or a standards/specification body (such as HR-XML) or to a newly formed industry association. If not, we’re looking at a lot of work down the tube for something that doesn’t get adopted by the community. PENS?

  • steve999

    The spellout of SCORM amply describes what it is. “Experience API” also imparts something of the meaning of the API.

    The metaphor of “xAPI” implies the same meaning as likening a Bugatti Veyron to a hand cart. Not a positive image.

    Does the xAPI metaphor even have meaning outside of English?

  • Jason Haag

    The point of the analogy with Android or Adobe products is they have a code name for a project and then it switches back to the original name when it has been solidified. The original name of the Experience API in the BAA is the Experience API. It was named “project xAPI”by Rustici Software and it did have much momentum while it was the project name. Since the spec became more solidified at 1.0 it has been recently brought up that we should be calling this the same thing (xAPI) as a community. I personally don’t have a problem with the name, but the community does seem to have some valid points and is asking that it be called xAPI. I’m not sure where all of this recent urgency has come from, but we should do what’s best for the community and all stakeholders.

    As stated in this post, “If reason #1 above changes and the community decides to call it “Experience API” we will likely go along.”

  • There’s a big important piece missing from this discussion. HOW is the transition going to be made? My contention remains that the cost and effort required to make this transition are greater than the available resources to do so and they are greater than the potential benefit as well.

    I’m about to head out of town for two weeks, so I laid out all of my thoughts in this document:

    Read it over. I share the goal of having a single name. If anybody has a viable plan to make that happen I’m all ears.

  • Jeff I couldn’t agree more. We have been trying to give ADL that trademark ever since it was registered. We have repeatedly followed up with them about it. Last I heard they were still trying to find the right lawyer within DoD to make it happen. Apparently it’s hard for DoD to own a trademark. In the interim we’ve publicly committed to being responsible temporary stewards of the mark and have offered to give formal legal assurances to anybody who would like them. I don’t know what else we can do.

    Perhaps ADL will hand the spec over to a standards body soon and there will be less bureaucracy in the way of making a hand over.

    Since we’re on the topic of trademarks, another significant issue to consider in this debate is the fact that “experience api” is not trademarked. If ADL is unable or unwilling to secure one, that is very problematic for the future of this spec. Since the spec itself is openly licensed, let’s just say that standards body X is annoyed that ADL gave standards body Y stewardship of this spec. As I understand it, there would be nothing stopping X from copying the spec and labeling it “experience api”. Y could do nothing to stop them. Anybody could claim to support or own “experience api” rendering the spec (or at least the label) meaningless.

  • Twitter, Android, iPod

    Any of those succeeding internationally? They all have English names that have a nuanced association to English speakers.

    As I argued to Russell, descriptive names aren’t necessary. Eventually the name just comes to have the meaning of the brand no matter what the actual words are.

  • David Glow

    …too much momentum behind the name “xAPI” for it to change now…

    Really? because it seems that momentum is stalling when discussing outside L&D groups

    … “xAPI” is what people know. It is what the community wants to call it….

    Erm… I am missing the community members comments and requests to keep it TinCan- can you help here? But as far as “what people know”- there is truth there- esp. with regard to google searches, but that really has to do with how long TinCan has been in existence and marketed vs xAPI.

    …After that transfer, we don’t expect the official government name “Experience API” to last much longer…
    I don’t think folks are looking for “official” as much as “effective” to talk about this in their orgs. As soon as I stopped talking about what others in the org called “this Tin thing” and started “ExperienceAPI”, it resonated better.

    …From a branding perspective, “xAPI” is a better, more identifiable name…
    Not my experience, and I am not seeing many others “identifying” with TinCan. I spend more time explaining it vs when I start with Experience API.

    …It would require a large effort for the community to effectively rebrand itself. Those efforts would be better used to improve the spec and encourage real adoption…
    I think it happens pretty organically if folks all just start calling it xAPI- sorta like a meme… once it starts to take hold…

    Look- at the end of the day, I don’t care in L&D Circles what it’s called- it is a great standard, and yes, most energy should be spent on the standard and it’s implementations. But in educating non-L&D types, esp. in supporting the spec – upgrading tools, exploring designs leveraging it, etc…- xAPI has resonated better with the organization in my experience. It’d be swell if we had a name that worked in that regard. TinCan, in my experience, doesn’t.

  • Katie Fraser

    Twitter, Android, and iPod are all made up words and have no other meaning other than the product. Therefore, it cannot be argued that their successful international adoption will be similar to that of “xAPI”.

    xAPI is already an object outside this scope of API and can be translated into other languages and will likely be something that is easily confused, unless every culture understands the concept of 2 cans and a string as a way of communicating, and the translation in each language is flawless.

  • “Twitter” – to utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird.

    “Android” – an automaton in the form of a human being.

    “pod” – a somewhat elongated, two-valved seed vessel, as that of the pea or bean.

  • Katie Fraser

    Forgive me, I’ve never used the word “Twitter” or “Android” outside their product definitions.

  • Jason Haag

    Valid points by Mike here as well. There are some major things that must be done in order for a transition to even take place.

  • alextheukrainian

    Katie, I think that’s exactly Mike’s point – brand name becomes so embedded into language, we start thinking of the word as just that brand. I never used xAPI outside of reading about it here, and now every time I hear about it, this brand is all that’s going to come up for me!

  • Bill Zuber


    I agree with your comments. I think there is a lack of research and evidence here to stick with xAPI. Shouldn’t the governing body (ADL) of the standard be responsible for the name?

    It appears to me that the decision has been made based on a localized set of views and opinions and not the views of the broader community or the the governing body.

    The fact that ADL calls it xAPI and the decision by Rustici to keep xAPI creates even further confusion. Wasn’t the whole reason for changing the name so that it relates to what it does – X = the Experience of the learner?

    Rustici, please have a serious think about the imact your decision has and provide us with more evidence supporting the xAPI name. The name should be the same for both ADL and Rustici.

    I am keen to hear a response.


  • Bill Zuber

    Hi Mike and readers,

    I have just read your document and I’m not sure that your research methodology supports your claims. Here is an excerpt from your document:

    “These numbers are FAR from perfect, but I do think they are proportionally representative. My empirical estimates would put the total number of xAPI infected people in the world at the low hundreds of thousands and the usage of “xAPI” in lieu of “xAPI” at less than 10%.)”

    What I have quoted here is the basis for you argument and the research method you have used is to use your words again:

    “I searched Google on June 23rd for “Experience API” and “Experience API” and used the result count to represent the number of infections and assumed linear growth”

    I do not believe that a quick “Google” of these terms is a sufficient method of determining the opinions of the “community”. This is a very limited quantitative method that shows search results from one search engine.

    Personally, I do not really care if it is xAPI or Experience API. Just the one name and one source of information would be good enough for me.

    Note that your (seemingly individual) decision has created rather large impact on the “community” and indeed the future of the standard by causing a conflict of names and also undermining the authority of the standard, namely ADL.

    I would suggest that this decision (which has rather large implications) be researched more than doing a quick Google of the two names.

    I have a lot of respect for Rustici software and the work done by your company is invaluable I want to see it have every success but please provide us with some real research and evidence!

    Please also ensure that there is ONE name and ONE source of information!

    P.S. Sorry for the rant Mike!!


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  • Milton Edwards

    A xAPI, in Navy terms, identifies a small object (a Destroyer Escort ship/vessel) that flanks (hangs outside) a fleet of larger ships so that it can be the first object (ship) to be hit by a torpedo. LOL It’s descriptive name implies that the ship is a decoy. I’m sure that’s not the image Mike would like the eLearning community to adapt. Not a nice image or translation either? My vote is for the renamed xAPI because it can be more universally descriptive and can possibly be adopted without translation confusion.

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  • Dhivahar

    How we can use a tincan for offline tracking

  • Hi Dhivahar,
    Great question! xAPI is well suited to collect data from training and learning activities that occur outside of the browser, e.g. a mobile app, live training or simulator. How really depends on the type of activity. There are client libraries available to help you collect and store xAPI data offline that can then be synced to an LRS later when a connection is available.

    If you have any specific activities you’re working on, let us know. You can reach us directly at

    We’ll try to help provide some additional resources for you.