Testers Wanted for New Tool to Make It Easier to Petition the White House

We the People Write API will help groups gather petition signatures.

The White House’s We the People petition website is much discussed in government transparency circles but it has only grabbed the public’s attention a few times since its 2011 launch.

That could change with a new project called the We the People Write API that’s being developed now by the White House’s digital staff.

APIs, or application programming interfaces, are tools that allow information to stream automatically from one computer system to any other computers that plug into them. The first phase of this project, the Read API, allowed non-government developers to automatically gather data from the White House petition site, such as where signatures on a particular petition were coming from and how quickly they were coming in.

The Write API will allow developers to send signatures to We the People petitions from outside websites so signers won’t have to visit the White House site or even know much about it.

That means third-party petition sites such as Change.org could host petitions but still take advantage of their own popularity -- Change.org, for instance is significantly more popular than We the People -- and still benefit from We the People’s main selling point: Petitions that receive more than 100,000 signatures in one month are promised a response from White House officials.

The White House invited developers to be part of a beta test for the Write API in a blog post Monday. Sign up starts at 2 p.m. today.

The Write API could also be used by advocacy sites with strong supporter bases. Conservative groups could collect signatures on a petition to delay the Obamacare launch via postings on Breitbart.com for instance. Liberals groups could collect signatures on a petition to raise taxes on the richest Americans via Daily Kos.

Nonpartisan groups could also host petitions on popular sites. A petition urging harsher penalties for animal cruelty, for instance, could be hosted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

We the People surged into public notice when petitions supporting and opposing new gun control measures went viral soon after a gunman shot 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012 and when thousands of petitioners sought permission for their states to secede from the union following President Obama’s November reelection.