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Massive Catalog of Streaming Government Data Coming Thursday

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Government data officials have nearly completed an exhaustive list of nearly 300 application programming interfaces that will allow outsiders to stream up-to-date information from government agencies straight to their computers, websites and mobile apps.

The final version of the federal API catalog will be released Thursday on the government dataset trove Data.gov to mark the one-year anniversary of the White House’s federal digital strategy, the site’s administrator Jeanne Holm told Nextgov by email Wednesday.

A nearly complete version of the API catalog includes hyperlinks to about 280 government APIs, listed individually and broken down by federal department and agency. Holm called the current site a “transparent work in progress.” Officials will continue to add more APIs to the list after Thursday as agencies launch them, she said.

An API is essentially computer code that allows one machine to automatically gather updated information from another. A community organization could use the API for a national farmers’ market database recently launched by the Agriculture Department, for instance, to stream information about local farmers’ markets on its website.

APIs were a key component of the digital strategy, which required agencies to have at least two of them up and running by the strategy’s one-year anniversary. (The official deadline arguably won’t come for several months because it was also tied to the six-month anniversary of a government open data policy, due in November 2012, that wasn’t published until earlier this month).

A major goal for the API program is that private sector and non-profit developers will build mobile apps and other products off of streaming government data about home prices, health outcomes and other topics, either to serve the public, to turn a profit or both. One model for the initiative is the multi-billion industry built off government-gathered Global Positioning System data, which is used by industries ranging from airlines to mobile app developers.

As of Wednesday, the Data.gov API list included the makings of at least two APIs for every Cabinet-level agency and more than a dozen from some agencies such as the Interior Department. Some of the links led to works in progress, though, rather than completed APIs. Several led to static spreadsheets, for instance, and lacked the key API ingredient -- detailed instructions for how to write a script that will continuously pull new information from a particular data source.

Kedar Pavgi contributed to this report. 

(Image via ramcreations / Shutterstock.com)

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