The chicken, the egg and APIs


Agencies are using application programming interfaces as the backbone for mobile app development. The General Services Administration feels APIs are so closely tied to the governmentwide mobility push it just wrapped its third webinar in a series dedicated just to the subject of APIs.

Its outreach efforts are in full swing as it tries to help agencies wrangle their data into APIs and in November, the White House will release "robust and thorough" requirements for agency use of APIs.

Agencies are taking several approaches to API development.

Some are looking for quick wins by inserting API requirements into contract language for new systems. Others are already using web content management systems that make producing APIs a fairly painless additional step. And it's likely many will take advantage of a new tool GSA plans to roll out in November that enables CSV files to be automatically converted to XML and JSON for APIs.

One novel approach used by NASA invokes the chicken and egg debate: Which came first, the API or the hackathon?

Among the 101 submissions to NASAs Space Apps Challenge were several API solutions--presenting a new take on data challenges.

Competitions are being used for many things across government, but typically the hackathons and datapaloozas come after the data is neatly organized by the agency. For example, the Census Bureau plans to follow up its recently-released APIs with app challenges. These hackathons and codeathons will build specifically on the new APIs.

By flipping the strategy--which has become almost formulaic at this point, as it goes hand in hand with agencies' mantra on shifting from developers to platforms for development--NASA recognized an untapped resource.

Leveraging the developer community isn't just a means to mobile apps and visualizations, it's a clever way to draw data scientists in. They can help make sense of prohibitively complex data sets that aren't developer friendly, and turn them into APIs. - Molly