A Problem With Finding API Owners in Government

I had a great discussion with a friend who works in federal government yesterday. We were talking about various ways to “successfully” deploy APIs within the federal government. She gets APIs, understands the benefits, but she had some very realistic perspectives on where API deployment within the federal government can fail.

While discussing this with her, we kept coming back to two points:

  • API Garbage Littering the Internet - With some of the tools, making it easier to deploy APIs, the potential to just post meaningless and worthless data sets grows
  • Lack of API Ownership - There are big movements to get APIs deployed, but then very little ownership once its up.

Regarding worthless APIs being deployed, I think we can mitigate this by providing some sort of ranking or voting systems for APIs, allowing developers to upvote or downvote and add some critical feedback on what is right, or what is wrong. This will allow the “cream” to rise to the top, and everything else just disappear from view.

Next, her perspective on lack of API ownership after an API is launched, is a very big problem. It is something I see in the public sector all the time. Everyone gets excited about standing up an API, but once it’s in the wild, they lose enthusiasm--leaving the API to whither on the vine.

APIs will not succeed if they do not have an owner. For technology companies, it might make sense for them to have an API as a product, assemble a team and dedicate resources to the API.  Even hire an evangelist or advocate.

When it comes to government, maybe we need a different approach. A sort of personal API deployment platform like Socrata API Foundry, that will let anyone publish a dataset as API--allowing any individual to achieve "machine readable by default", as directed by President Obama back in May.

By empowering data owners within government to publish themselves, and give them the tools to handle the business of their APIs, and interact directly with consumers, maybe we can ensure APIs have an owner--one that cares about the data and truly understand the value it offers.

Just some quick thoughts, from a great conversation. I will flush out more ideas on this as soon as I can.