In The Future APIs Will Be Default For All Cities

Swagger is now Open API Definition Format (OADF) -- READ MORE

In 2014 we are making significant progress in deploying APIs in support of city operations, but we still have so much more work ahead of us when it comes to making public resources available. You can find a dedicated developer area full of data sets, and APIs, in most major US cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and many more, but what else can we do to really pick up the momentum and quality?

Standardizing API Design Practices
APIs are not that difficult to design with the right education, and experience. Developers who work on city contracts, or are employed by the city should all be taught common web API design practices, and be exposed to modern API design tooling like Swagger and Apiary. Even with this type of education, there will still be many differences between city deployments based upon needs, and tactics, but a little training could go a long way to make city operations more streamlined.

Open Solutions For API Deployment
There are a lot of common approaches to delivering city services, which means there should also a be a number of ways to provide standardized, open solutions for deploying APIs that support city operations. There should be a wealth of open source, Wordpress like solutions for deploying APIs in support of government operations. Sometimes connecting to legacy systems is just to much work, and deploying a simple, standalone solution, then syncing using data dumps or directly with backbend system might be more fruitful.

Common API Management Vision
I’m pretty impressed with the standard approach to deploying city developer areas, and delivering data sets, and APIs, but in reality this is the result of the hard work of Socrata, one of the API management providers dedicated to the government space. I think Socrata, and the other vendors out there are definitely one piece of the puzzle for managing APIs for city operations, but I also think we need other competing, open solutions similar to API Umbrella which is being used across the federal government.

Open Source Tooling Across Cities
When it comes to helping cities better serve their citizens, and save money along the way, I can’t think of a better place to start than by providing common, open source tools for delivering web, and mobile applications on top of city data and APIs. We have to stop re-inventing the wheel for each city when it comes to developing common apps, city needs are going to be very similar across cities--just take a look at solutions like Open311, and the let’s get to work on delivering similiar solutions for every part of city operations.

There is no reason each city should have to go at it alone when it comes to designing, deploying, managing, evangelizing, and putting APIs to work across city operations. We should have standard data models, API definitions, and a wealth of open source tools for cities to put to work.

I don't see APIs as the solution for all cities problems, but I do think that APIs should be common practice for ALL cities. Every city should be publishing all of their data and content in machine readable way, without causing employees any extra work—it should just be part of normal operations.

In the future, all cities will have standard APIs across all cities, and common open source solutions that can be put to work serving citizens in all aspects of city operations. This is how we are going to empower our cities to more with less, and make governing a more inclusive for everyone.

Updated November 27, 2015: Links were updated as part of switch from Swagger to OADF (READ MORE)