Introduction to APIs

Jul 26, 2012

There’s an easier way to get content and data into the hands of citizens. Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, are web services that allow people to more easily consume content and data in multiple ways–via mobile devices, mobile apps, innovative mash-ups, and much more. Simply put, “APIs are a better way to get government information and services into the hands of the people who need them.”

To help agencies better understand APIs, DigitalGov University hosted a webinar, An Introduction to APIs, with experts from NASA and CDC. The webinar explains why APIs are important and how you can use them to meet requirements of the Digital Government Strategy.


Attendees have already said the most useful part was hearing these case studies:

Jim Wilson of NASA talked about how pulling APIs into (PDF, 1.5 MB, 7 pages) has helped them release content and data to the public more quickly and easily. It’s also made their internal publishing processes more efficient. Before they began using APIs, the process of adding new content–especially video content–was cumbersome and labor intensive. It required them to:

  • Generate linking files
  • Cut and paste photos and other multimedia
  • Publish pages in multiple ways

Now they simply upload a video and tag it. Via API, the video is distributed on multiple channels in real-time.

Fred Smith spoke about CDC’s content syndication program (PDF, 1.9 MB, 5 pages) and how it provides for the automatic export of web content from a page to a partner’s Web page in real-time. This has proven especially valuable during public health emergencies, when it’s critical for partner sites–such as state and local health departments–to pull the most current health information from the authoritative source. The result is that government is able to use a more efficient publishing model and consumers get accurate, trusted information and services.

Gray Brooks from GSA’s Digital Services Innovation Center provided lots of helpful tips for agencies to get started. If you’re a developer, a great resource to check out is FCC’s API developer page, which shows how FCC has made its digital content available via API, so it can be easily distributed and reused.