Posted on 06-03-2014
I finished up my response to the Department of Education RFI focused around the use of APIs at the government agency, a place where I’m not just advocating for APIs, but pushing very hard for read / write APIs. I finished up my response to the RFI while waiting for my flight out of Barcelona where I spoke at API Days Mediterranea, where I the heard echoes of the importance role that write APIs will play in government, during a talk from Xavier Badosa (@badosa).
All of this primed the pump for me thinking about write APIs in government, while on my flight back to Los Angeles. This will be one of the biggest challenges API evangelists in government will face in coming years, something that scares the shit out of government leaders and their legal advisors, but will also be essential to government assuming its role in the API economy.
A read and write strategy for some government APIs, will evolve government resources from being just a download, to being a conversation with private sector interests that are putting those resources to use. As I highlighted in my Department of Education RFI response, allowing reading and writing to government resources, combined with development of sensible service composition around these resources, and establishment of trusted access tiers, will be the connector between the public and private sector, in the API economy.
I’m not API delusional enough to believe that deploying of APIs, or even read / write APIs will automatically be a good thing in all scenarios. However the opportunity to increase access to government resources by the private sector, in a secure and controlled way, should be considered by all government agencies. When appropriate, the design and deployment of read / write APIs is bundled with all the essential building blocks for API management, it has the potential to allow for a new, real-time, two way partnership to emerge between the public and private sector.
With this vision in mind, I can’t help but think about the significance of the first, modern read / write web API in the United States federal government, being the We The People API. While there are other write API resources in government like the IRS modernized e-file system, the We The People API is the first read / write API with al the hallmark characteristics of a modern web API.
I don’t buy into all the bullshit rhetoric Silicon Valley and the API industry (sometimes me) spouts about APIs democratizing everything, I think they can just as easily be used in dictatorships, and efforts to lock up resources—APIs just reflect their owners objectives. Even with this, I couldn’t think of a better read / write API initiative than the We The People platform, which provides a way for citizens to petition the White House, potentially “giving all Americans a way to engage their government on the issues that matter to them.”
While APIs does not automaticaly equal democracy, I think APIs will play a central role in the future of government. I will be closely watching, and hopefully even participating in the We The People Write API beta initiative. I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but I think the effort is worth supporting, and if we can pull off, will be a shining example of read / write APIs in government, providing a precedent that other agencies can follow in their own efforts, hopefully opening up the floodgates for read / write APIs in government.
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