A Conversation About APIs in Washington DC

I came to Washington DC this week for meetings with a couple federal agencies and a handful of private companies who contract with our government--including a conversation last night at the DC API Meetup Group, which met at NPR offices downtown.

The API Meetup started with pizza, a healthy selection of beer and networking with around 50 API professionals and API curious from around the DC area. I was able to meet about 15 folks I know online, but have never had the opportunity to connect with in real life.

Ben Balter (@BenBalter), one of the Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF) kicked off the conversation with a presentation of some of the cool API discovery, CSV to API, DB to API and various tool he's developed during his time as a innovation fellow. I totally dig Ben's style, in making very small, but powerful open source tools that can make a real difference in how government opens up data via APIs.

I was up next, giving a talk titled, "From Web, to Programmable Web, to Programmable World". I wanted to give everyone a healthy dose on the history of APIs, some views on where we are currently, and where API are going with an introduction to concepts like aggregation and automation. The talk is meant to be a 200K foot walkthrough of the API space, which also reflects all of the sections available on APIEvangelist.com.

Next up was Gray Brooks from the General Services Administration (GSA) who walked through some of the open data and API initiatives coming out of the federal government. He is overseeing some very important aspects of the White House Digital Strategy, and is the point person for the execution of the digital strategy across all federal agencies.

After Gray talked, Tim Herzog (@tgherzog) the Open Data Specialist at the World Bank walked us through what the World Bank is doing with their open data initiatives, which APIs are at the core. He discussed how they couldn't have delivered their open data platform in the time and budget, without making it driven by APIs.

Last up was Javaun Moradi (@javaun) of NPR, who walked us through some of the lessons learned from deploying and managing the NPR APIs. His talk was full of nuggets of wisdom, including "Don't build an API unless it solves a user problem" and "We drink our own champagne, because we don't make dog food!". I'm hoping to spend more time this spring, doing a deeper dive into the NPR approach and share those insights in blog posts and ultimately a white paper.

We wrapped up with the presentations, grabbed another beer, ate some more pizza and networked a bit--then came back for a QA panel with everyone who presented, moderated by Alex Howard (@digiphile) of O'Reilly Media. Alex did an awesome job at making the panel a conversation with everyone in attendance, encouraging open questions from the audience on APIs. Alex is extremely knowledgable on not just open data and APIs, but how Washington DC operates, there is no better person to moderate a panel in DC.

The DC API Meetup Group is something I will be coming back regularly to attend and hopefully have the opportunity to present again. They are looking for speakers and sponsors for future events, so if you have anything you'd like to share or make sure your company supports these valuable API conversations, you can contact Patrick Svenburg (@svenburg), Head of Business Development & Partnering at Apiphany and organizer of the DC API Meetup Group.