Tag Archives: API

Sunlight Labs’ New Open API and Why You Should Care

More news on the Open Gov API front from Sunlight Labs

The National Data Catalog went live last week. Now we would like to share a little bit about our API and how it fits into our platform. The National Data Catalog (NDC) is an open source catalog for government data sets and APIs. Our goal is to have it encompass all data released by or about governments in the United States. This includes federal, state, and local jurisdictions. The NDC will harness the community of users interested in open government data. 

Their announcement has lots of cool, geeky details for developer types. Here's the most relevant information from an end-user perspective:

The richest user experience is available with the National Data Catalog web app. It is geared towards the general public, but with a focus on researchers, reporters, investigative journalists, and lovers of data far and wide. 

Some of you may be wondering why you should care about open APIs. Read my last post for more context. Very briefly, they allow third parties to repurpose, manipulate and do all kinds of interesting — and sometimes unexpected — things with the data.  As OpenPlan explains, "Open APIs allow for software developers to create novel data-driven applications, and those in turn create more direct, responsive relationships with citizens."  

The potential is huge especially when you consider that technologists like Robert Scoble think the future of the web will be API-driven.

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May 6th: Open APIs for Government

OpenPlan (formerly The Open Planning Project) points to an exciting event happening in San Francisco on May 6th: 

Open data and Open APIs are increasingly powerful vectors for what Tim O’Reilly has called ‘government as a platform.’ A number of open government efforts, including Open311, are opportunities to fundamentally improve the way that municipalities and citizens interact. Open APIs allow for software developers to create novel data-driven applications, and those in turn create more direct, responsive relationships with citizens.

That’s why we’re excited about the upcoming Open APIs for Government event being held at San Francisco’s City Hall on May 6 at 6:30pm. We hope to see many of you there for lively discussion of the importance of open government in the era of open data and open source. The event will explore visions for the future of this movement as well as updates on current efforts and app demos.

Wish I could be there! Craig Newmark, Tim O'Reilly, San Francisco's CIO, Tim Vein, and OpenPlan's Phil Ashlock (@philipashlock) will all be on a panel at the event.

I've been hearing a lot about the API-driven web lately. We discussed it in Samantha Starmer's class last Saturday morning. (I'm not even enrolled in her class, but I love the way she thinks about information so I got up at 7:00am on a Saturday morning to sit in and absorb her knowledge. That's how good she is!) And Robert Scoble also raved about it's potential in a recent blog post reporting Apple's acquisition of Siri, a mobile app that connects users to information via APIs. Robert thinks the API-driven web is huge.  In "Why if you miss Siri you’ll miss the future of the Web" he explains, well, why: 

Web 1994 was the “get me a domain and a page” era.
Web 2000 was the “make my page(s) interactive and put people on it” era.
Web 2010 is the “get rid of pages and glue APIs and people together” era.

Siri is the best example. First, it’s not a website. It’s an application you put on your phone (today iPhone, soon others like Android and Blackberry). Second, it isn’t a search engine, those are so 1998. It’s a system that assists you in your life.

Why is it so different?

Because on the back end they’ve stitched together a sizeable group of APIs from services like Opentable to Flightstats. With more coming soon. Before it was common only for a couple of APIs to be joined together, here they have dozens.

He goes on to explain how Siri works using voice recognition for user queries.  But the true magic of Siri is decidedly not it's voice recognition mojo:

Why is this really new and important? Don’t get confused by the awesome voice recognition engine that figures out your speech and what you want with pretty good accuracy. No, that’s not the really cool thing, although Microsoft and other companies have been working on natural language search for many years now and have been failing to come up with anything as useful as Siri.

No, the real secret sauce and huge impact on the future of the web is in the back end of this thing. A few months back the engineers at Siri gave me a secret look at how they stitch the APIs into the system. They’ve built a GUI that helps them hook up the APIs from, say, a new source like Foursquare, into the language recognition engine.

Just think about the possibilities Open APIs can unleash for Gov2.0 initiatives. Looking forward to reading the follow-ups from Open APIs for Government.  Please do get in touch if you're in San Francisco and attend.  I'd love to hear about your experience.  

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