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Census to launch API for demographic, economic app builders next month

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The Census Bureau plans to launch an application programming interface in the next month that will stream its data straight to developers, Stephen Buckner, director of the bureau’s Center for New Media and Promotion, said Monday.

Developers will be able to use data from the APIs to build apps that help homebuyers find neighborhoods with similarly aged children or help restaurants, movie theaters and bowling alleys find the prime locations for their target audiences, he said.

The API, which officials are testing now, will include 2010 census information, plus data from the bureau’s American Community Survey, he said.

Buckner was speaking at a panel discussion on mobile technology at the Management of Change conference sponsored by American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council, a government technology industry group.

The Census Bureau also is working on a handful of mobile apps, he said. The first app, called America’s Economy, will display much of the economic data Census gathers. Later apps may list local demographic data, which will be updated based on the smartphone or tablet’s location.

In the long run, Buckner said, he wants the bureau to be a source for mobile data, not an app builder.

“We can’t be in the business of developing mobile apps forever,” he said. “That’s not in the government’s interest. The creativity about the way people want to use our data is outside government, not inside. So we want to expose core things that show the range of things you can do with our data.”

The 2010 census marked the first time temporary workers collected information on handheld computers rather than on paper, Buckner said. The workers also used the computers to link census data with Global Positioning System tags, he said, and to fill out and submit their timesheets, saving the bureau time and money.

2010 is just a starting point, though, he said. By 2020, citizens may be filling out census forms on mobile devices, themselves.

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