Show us … APIs

An API (application programming interface) is a set of functions … that a … service provides to support requests made by computer programs.

So instead of going to a Statistics Agency, asking for data, downloading these data and inserting them into one’s own application, it would be much easier to request the data directly from the database of this agency – via an API.

Today this is not a common procedure. Technical, security and copyright issues have to be adressed before such an access becomes possible.

The Power of Information TaskForce in the UK has made an extensive review about how to use official data in a new way.

From the executive summary of this review: ‘This is an unusual review in that it is a story of opportunities rather than problems. ….. Public sector information underpins a growing part of the economy and the amount is increasing at a dramatic pace. The driver is the emergence of online tools that allow people to use, re-use and create information in new ways. ….. This is the first review to explore the role of government in helping to maximise the benefits for citizens from this new pattern of information creation and use.’  See the full Power of Information Review

And now the the UK Government has started a website called “Show us a better way” and a competition to ‘hear ideas for new products that could improve the way public information is communicated. The Power of Information Taskforce is running a competition on the Government’s behalf, and we have a £20,000 prize fund to develop the best ideas to the next level. … To show they are serious, the Government is making available gigabytes of new or previously invisible public information especially for people to use in this competition’.

One of these data sources is the Neighbourhood Statistics from the Office for National Statistics ONS. This office now provides an API to get information out of this huge database. There’s a challenge for clever programmers to make the best of this opportunity.

The competition will close at the end of September 2008. It’s a fascinating experience for the dissemination of statistical information. to be continued soon ….!

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