The Promise and Pitfalls of Government APIs

How the City of Boston does Open Data.

Civic Innovations

Fresh off a week in San Diego for the annual Accela Engage conference (where Tim O’Reilly gave a keynote presentation) and some stolen hours over the weekend for hacking together an entry in the Boston HubHacks Civic Hackathon, I’ve got government APIs front of mind.

Getting to hear the Godfather of “Government as a Platform” speak in person is always a treat, and Tim was kind enough to share the awesome slide deck he used for his talk. The chance to follow up on an event like Engage with some heads down time to bang out a quick prototype for the City of Boston was a great opportunity to frame some of the ideas discussed at the conference.

For me, this quick succession of events got me thinking about both the promise and the pitfalls of government APIs.

APIs: The Promise

The thing I love the most about…

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Turning Governments into Data Stewards

Great article on why governments should operate as data stewards and focus their resources on making data open so that third parties can incorporate it into their apps.

Civic Innovations

The civic entrepreneurs behind Open Counter recently launched a new service called Zoning Check that lets prospective businesses quickly and easily check municipal zoning ordinances to determine where they can locate a new business.

This elegantly simple app demonstrates the true power of zoning information, and underscores the need for more work on developing standard data specifications between governments that generate similar kinds of data.

In a recent review of this new app, writer Alex Howard contrasts the simple, intuitive interface of Zoning Check with the web-based zoning maps produced by different municipal governments. Zoning Check is obviously much easier to use, especially for its intended audience of prospective business owners. And while this certainly is but one of many potential uses for zoning information, it’s hard to argue with the quality of the app or how much different it is than a standard government zoning map.

But to…

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Introducing ITA’s Trade Developer Portal

Open US Trade Data/APIs from the International Trade Administration.

Tradeology, the ITA Blog

Kimberly Becht is the Deputy Program Manager for Web Presence in the International Trade Administration.

ITA's Trade Developer Portal provides APIs for office locations, market research, trade events, trade leads and trade news. ITA’s Trade Developer Portal.

In support of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative and the Commerce Department’s strategic plan, the International Trade Administration (ITA) has taken a major step in making its data open and accessible to the public through its Trade Developer Portal.

Announced today by Secretary Pritzker, the portal is a collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow software developers to create web and mobile applications using information produced by ITA and other trade promotion agencies.

Making its data public to software developers is one more way ITA is helping U.S. businesses export and enabling foreign investment in American companies through the use of cutting edge technologies.

The Trade Developer Portal helps fulfill the Department’s top priority of making federal data open and available to third party developers in order to foster…

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Open Data Cautionary Tale

I am a firm believer in the public being able to access data that it is paying for through taxes (with the exception of sensitive data). That being said, having access to civic data is imperative to the ability to check and balance our government(s). Technically Philly has an article about a civic hacker who requested a data set from Philadelphia Traffic Court because he wanted to analyze the data to look for cases where violations were pleaded down to lesser charges/fines. He was told that it would cost $11,000 for the consulting firm in charge of the server where the data was hosted to make a specialized data dump. Pennsylvania has a “Right To Know” law on the books but Philadelphia’s court system has their own public access policy which allows it to pass the cost of the unique data pull onto the requester. So in essence, the court system is making data difficult to access by imposing a fee.

Any thoughts on this topic?

Here’s the story.

Open Data Portals: Where To Find Data

Finding sources of open data can be a little cumbersome because there are so many ways to find data. There are a lot of websites that house data. For instance, let’s say that you are looking for data on the bike routes in Philadelphia. One place you can look at is Open Data Philly which is a portal that provides access Philadelphia based data sets, APIs, and applications.  You can search amongst the over 170 datasets or even submit or nominate a dataset to be included on the site.  A quick search on the site shows that there are 6 datasets related to biking ranging from bike rack locations to commuting routes.  Many large cities and counties are have websites where they store open data for their municipalities.

Here are some sites for local/federal government data:

Philadelphia: Open Data Philly

New York City: NYC Open Data

Boston: City of Boston

District of Columbia: Open Data Catalog

U.S. Government: Data.gov

Why I Set Up This Site.

I realized a few days ago that I didn’t write a a post about why I launched this blog.  So I’ll take this opportunity to write about why this blog was created and what you will get out of it.

In my professional life I work with people and organizations who are looking for data to beef up their grants, reports and business plans.  Either they are in the process of starting a business/grant writing or they already have a plan in place and need to fine-tune it.  This is where I come in and educate them on the types of data that are available for them.  I always steer clients towards free data as there is a plethora of them waiting to be used.

So this blog will be a stage to showcase what I have used in the past and what I discover during my own research.  I’ll discuss government data, business data and GIS/mapping resources that I think will be beneficial for the public to be aware of.    So bookmark my site and sign-up for updates,  you won’t want to miss a post!

Demographic Data Resources (US and International)

One crucial part of a business plan or a grant is the section on who your potential customer base/client base is. This information is vital to your bottom line whether you’re reaching out for funding or pricing your services to customers.

Why spend a ton of money having someone else crunch numbers and send you a report that you can create on your own for little to no money. How so? By using data that is already available. One of the most widely used sources of data on people is census data. You can get all types of stuff  including income, education, languages spoken, family composition many times down to the neighborhood level. Sometimes it does take a little work to understand what you are looking at but I guarantee that the info that you find will be very eye-opening. Imagine you want to know the income level of an area because you are thinking about opening a business or want to get funding for a grant to help children receive after school tutoring. Demographic data can help you find the best place to serve your community or open your business.

Here are some websites that you can peruse to see what data is available.

US Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov
Statistics Canada: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/start-debut-eng.html
United Kingdom Office for National Statistics: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/index.html
Mexico Census (site is in Spanish): http://www.inegi.org.mx/

Showing that you have really done your homework can make your proposition stand our from among the crowd. And with all the competition out there who doesn’t want any advantage they can get?

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Free Data At Your Fingertips.

open govt wordleThere are many sources of free data that are available from the internet and brick and mortar places (like libraries) that most of the public aren’t aware of. When writing a business plan or a grant it’s best to have data behind your idea that will make your project stand out from your competition.  And if you are like most of us, you have a limited time and budget for research.  I’m going to show you what resources are out there, how to find them and how to get the most out of them.  We’ll be exploring government data sources, books that you need to read and websites to bookmark.  Feel free to send me your tips and tricks.  Looking forward to seeing how far your ideas can grow!