In the next few weeks, you’re going to be hearing a lot about APIs, and unless you’re some kind of techie or datahead, you’re probably wondering what they are and why you should care.
Here’s why: because our daily lives have been made infinitely easier thanks to these Application Programming Interfaces.
In functional terms, an API is a doorway that works silently in the background to, for example, make a piece of software do many more things than it otherwise could accomplish. From a data perspective, an API opens up a dataset for broader usage. APIs don’t talk to people; instead, they allow software and data to speak directly to each other.
At Data.gov, we are primarily interested, of course, in how APIs help public data to be as useful as possible. A great example of government APIs are those belonging to the National Weather Service. The National Weather Service owns mountains of real-time data that ultimately help us to prepare for future weather. Without APIs – doorways to the data – forecasters and developers wouldn’t have the same easy access to timely information. Instead, with these interfaces they can translate the data into information that is meaningful to the general public.
What does this mean for Data.gov? The Federal Government is launching a focus on APIs to help public data become more and more useful. We’ll be talking more about APIs on this site and showcasing the apps that result from these open doorways.
So when you hear, “There’s an app for that,” remember that there’s an API – and maybe more than one – behind it.
Sally Ruth Bourrie of Phase One Consulting Group supports Outreach and Communications at Data.gov.