Take out your smartphone and count the number of apps that you have. How many of these apps do you use daily? What about the apps you use weekly? Do you have any apps that you installed but used only once? Any apps that you have never used? What kind of apps do you have? Are most of the apps used to communicate with friends and family? How many gaming apps do you have?
Wednesday Api Briefing
By now, you are familiar with “big data” or datasets that are so large that they cannot be analyzed by conventional analytical methods. You may have heard of “long data” which is data that has a temporal context. I work with long data when I analyze hiring patterns over time in workforce data. There is also “small data.” Small data are datasets that describe a current condition. For example, if you have a smart home appliance such as a smart thermostat or a home security system, that appliance is constantly monitoring data such as temperature or if a door is open.
Serendipity can be a wonderful tool for discovery. I was looking through the Census Bureau site for some business census data when I came upon the 2012 Census of Governments. According to the official description: “[t]he Census of Governments identifies the scope and nature of the nation’s state and local government sector; provides authoritative benchmark figures of public finance and public employment; classifies local government organizations, powers, and activities; and measures federal, state, and local fiscal relationships.
NASA has been busy since we last visited their collection of APIs back in August 2014. NASA has just launched API.NASA.gov where developers can learn to use existing NASA APIs or contribute their APIs to the catalog. NASA encourages developers to obtain an API Key to begin using or contributing APIs. Developers do not need an API key, but their requests to the API will be limited. I would encourage developers to obtain an API key.
The spring semesters are winding down at the universities where I teach. Many students are looking for summer internships or their first job after graduation. Of course, I talk about the opportunities in government through the Pathways program, the Presidential Management Fellows, or the various agency-specific internship programs. I’ve demonstrated USAJOBS in my classes, but I often wondered how to improve the experience for job seekers, especially for job seekers who prefer to use mobile apps.
Before coming to DC in late 2008, I lived in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is in the Ohio Valley Region, which meteorologists euphemistically call “weather-rich.” With spring came the beautiful flowers and the Kentucky Derby. Spring also brought flooding, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and windstorms. This is why I had several emergency weather radios that also doubled as flashlights and cell phone chargers. I also have several emergency information apps on my smartphone.
The Pew Research Center just released a report on how Americans view open government data. The following findings were based on a November to December 2014 survey of 3,212 adults. Two-thirds of Americans use the Internet or an app to connect with the government. According to Pew, 37% use the Internet to connect with the federal government, 34% connect with their state government, and 32% connect with their local government.
I recently found an app that provides a great service through crowdsourcing. Be My Eyes connects visually-impaired people with volunteers. Using the smartphone’s camera, the volunteers can perform tasks such as reading an expiration date or helping someone navigate unfamiliar surroundings. This is not a federal app, but I wanted to highlight it to demonstrate how crowdsourcing apps can make it easy for everyone to make a difference through microtasks.
I grew up when home computers were first being introduced to the general public. I bought my first computer, a Commodore 64, after spending a summer of mowing lawns and saving up my birthday and Christmas money. It was not until I entered college that I became an infopreneur. Infopreneurs are entrepreneurs who used computers and data sources to provide information products and services. My specialty was compiling information from the university’s collection of CD-ROMs that they received from various government agencies.
When I first started coding using BASIC on the Commodore 64, I rarely documented my programs. Neither did many of my fellow programmers which led to numerous hours trying to figure out just exactly how a program worked. Documentation became more vital as programs became more feature rich and complex. In the API world, there are a number of documentation standards to choose from when documenting an API.
The API Briefing: Free Federal Energy and Economic Information Delivered Straight to Your Spreadsheet
Back in November 2014, I wrote about the Federal Reserve of St. Louis’ FRED® (Federal Reserve Economic Data) API. A user can access 238,000 economic trends through FRED® through a website and mobile apps. What is unique about FRED® is that a user can pull economic data directly into an Excel spreadsheet. Now, the FRED® Excel plugin is joined by the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Excel plugin. The tool, which launched on March 18, incorporates both energy data from the EIA API and economic data from FRED®.
Instead of writing about a specific federal API this week, I want to talk about a new, evolving way of building Web interfaces and complete applications. Web Components allow developers to create their element that extends the HTML5 set of tags. Developers can create a Web Component that is a button that performs a specific function, such as composing and sending an email. Alternatively, a Web Component can be a complete application that a developer can easily drop into a Web page or mobile app.
The API Briefing: Fulfilling the D(e)SIRE for Renewable Energy with the Department of Energy’s New API
The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency® (DSIRE®) provides information on incentives and policies for renewables and energy efficiency in the U.S. This joint project by the Department of Energy and North Carolina State University just released an API to query DSIRE®’s database. Developers can view the sample output by visiting the database query page. They can query by state or ZIP code to receive a listing of programs.
When browsing the various APIs offered by the federal government, you may have noticed that developers need to sign up for an API key. You may have also noticed that the documentation tells app developers to access the API using specified methods. Along with these two requirements, federal API creators have several ways to provide secure APIs for app developers and the general public. In this posting, I will describe how federal APIs are kept secure.
APIs and apps have been created for almost every aspect of human life. There are alarm clock apps, fitness apps, cooking apps, and personal finance apps, just to name a few of the thousands of apps available today. Most areas of society are well-represented in the app world except for one large portion of the American public—rural America. There need to be more apps for rural America. Fortunately, the U.
In my last posting, I argued that federal agencies should consider microservices architecture when releasing APIs. This is because allowing users to combine single-purpose apps together in unique ways helps people build personalized apps such as a driving map to local farmers markets. When given the opportunity, users will surprise you with the innovative creations they build from combining APIs. Just last week, the popular If This Then That (IFTTT) service released a federal-friendly Terms of Service.
DigitalGov recently spotlighted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) new SaferRide app. SaferRide provides safe alternatives to keep drunken drivers off the road. SaferRide uses the Yelp API to provide information about local taxi services for the part of the app where users can request a ride home. The SaferRide app is one example of how APIs can be mashed together to produce sophisticated applications. As APIs become more prevalent, there are two trends in app development that federal app developers should watch.
Big news in the technology world as Microsoft unveiled HoloLens and Microsoft’s use of holographic computing in the upcoming Windows 10 release. Holographic computing or augmented reality uses computer-generated images that are overlaid on real world videos. For example, a user can view a car through their smartphone. An app can project information such as make and model, fuel mileage, and other facts onto a real-time view of a particular car.
The federal government collects an amazing amount of economic data. Several agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Treasury, and the Census Bureau collect economic data, ranging from the stock market activity to local business conditions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects information on the labor market and is a rich source of data for researchers and the general public. The BLS offers two APIs for accessing labor data.
Recently, a reader pointed out that some of the APIs I write about are not really APIs but just datasets. Technically that is true but it only takes some development effort to turn a into an API. That is why I also highlight interesting federal datasets along with federal APIs. There are many federal datasets that should be APIs but how do agencies choose which datasets to build APIs?
According to some experts, over 80% of Americans will make a least one New Year’s resolution. There are the usual “lose weight,” “quit smoking,” or “exercise more” resolutions. Another popular set of resolutions involves learning new skills. So, if you are looking for a way to improve yourself while helping others, think about making a resolution to learn how to build a mobile app that can be used in disaster relief.
When websites were first created back in the 1990s, developers perfected their skills designing sites that presented content in an attractive and eye-catching manner. Content was completely contained within the four corners of the site. With the rise of Web 2.0, content creation became easier through blogs, wikis, and microblogging. Even so, content was still attached to that particular content creation tool. Content management systems (CMS) freed content from presentation.
We are in the middle of the holidays, and that means much driving to visit friends and relatives. I was just in Kentucky this past weekend where I spent a total of eight hours driving. I am sure many of you will spend even more time driving in the next three weeks. So, where do you find the best gas prices and how can you maximize your vehicle’s fuel mileage?
The Peace Corps just released a new dataset that lists all of the countries and regions Peace Corps volunteers serve. The API is RESTful and uses the JSON format. You have read in earlier columns about the different data formats for APIs and how to read the data presented by an API. As a refresher, I’ve created the following quiz based on the excellent documentation for the Peace Corps Countries and Regions API.
The federal government captures almost every economic data trend through several agencies. The Federal Reserve of St. Louis offers 238,000 economic trends through FRED® (Federal Reserve Economic Data). FRED® data can be accessed through the FRED® website or the FRED® mobile app (Android | Apple). FRED® data can even be pulled into Excel through a free plugin. Developers can take advantage of the vast data resources of FRED® and its cousin, ALFRED® (ArchivaL Federal Reserve Economic Data).
Every year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys nearly 80,000 households and over 143,000 individuals about crime victimization. What is unique about this survey is that both reported and unreported crimes data is collected. The survey has a well-documented API which offers data in the CSV, XML, and JSON formats. Let’s examine the documentation to determine how a developer could use the data in the app. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) API is split into “personal victimization” data and “household victimization” data.
Back in 2000, I worked at a dot-com building website applications such as a real-time stock ticker ribbon and a real estate listings search engine. One of my favorite applications was an app for mobile phones. At that time, I used the Wireless Access Protocol (WAP), which displayed information using a special version of XHTML. Using the Kentucky Golf.com database, a user could search for information on a specific golf course by entering a ZIP code or using drop-down lists to search by county or course name.
Data.gov has 130,000+ datasets (as of November 3, 2014) many of which are designed for application developers. In previous columns, I’ve showcased some of the great applications built using federal APIs. Have you wondered where the idea for an app came from? Some developers start with an idea and then look for the API that best fits the idea. For example, a developer may want to create an app that alerts users of unsafe bus or limousine companies.
It is fall when the weather becomes colder, and people start firing up their furnaces. While I was working on putting in more insulation and installing a programmable thermostat, I wondered if the federal government has an API to help me lower my utility bills. Yes, and it is a great API! The Department of Energy (through the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory) has the Home Energy Saver API which is a comprehensive service to analyze home energy use.
Access to clean water is fast becoming a vital issue in the 21st century. Changing climate patterns are drying up aquifers and limiting the amount of water runoff from thawing snow packs. Drought conditions in California are effecting hydroelectric production while dry conditions in the West have increased the frequency and harmful effects of forest fire. Monitoring and mapping water conditions across the U.S. is a vital government service.
The recent Ebola outbreaks demonstrate the need for current and authoritative health news. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the federal information source for Ebola and other infectious diseases, along with other public health data. Data.CDC.gov lists 48 datasets and views containing statistics from smoking to infectious diseases. Developers can use the Socrata Open Data API to pull JSON data into their apps. For those who are not developers, the CDC offers a way to embed health data into blogs, websites, and social media.
Glad to be back after a three-week absence. I was preparing for the South Eastern Conference on Public Administration held in Atlanta this year. Great conversations and I can tell you that the academic community is hungry for more government data and APIs. A great example is this week’s API Briefing: the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s TOXNET Web Service. TOXNET lists 16 databases ranging from TOXNET, which maps chemical releases, to the Hazard Substances Data Bank (HSDB).
If you have ever been a caregiver for an elderly family member or friend, you know that there are many resources to help you in giving care. But finding these resources can be difficult and frustrating. The Administration on Aging in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been guiding people to local resources since 1991. Starting with a phone service, the Administration on Aging created its first website in 2001.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has an enormous collection of aerospace and science data sets. NASA missions and projects can create amazing amounts of data. One example: the Earth Observing System Data and Information System has collected enough information to fill the Library of Congress (Data.NASA.gov). A more recent example: the Solar Dynamics Observatory receives 1.5 terabytes of data a day. As NASA admits, this much information can be overwhelming for agency API development.
As the new school season approaches, it is a good time to see what federal datasets are available for educational app developers. Visit the developers’ page at ED.gov to find 36 educational datasets for educational levels. The datasets can be accessed in CSV, JSON, XML, and API formats. What is especially helpful is a PDF document that explains the data and the methodology behind the data collection. This is useful information for app developers when they combine datasets.
Up till now, all the APIs that have been written about in The API Briefing were read-only APIs. That means that information is only one way: from the API to the user or app. These APIs do allow limited interactivity in that the database behind the API can be searched, but the existing data cannot be edited, or new data added to the database. There are some federal government APIs that are writable.
As federal agencies release APIs on an almost daily basis, keeping track of the numerous datasets has become a vital service for developers. The Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) manages HealthData.Gov which currently lists 1,680 datasets in 36 categories such as “Public Health,” “Health Care Cost,” and “Health Statistics.” To help developers find relevant datasets and keep up with newly-added datasets, the HealthData.gov API was created. Developers can use the Catalog API to search the catalog and receive meta-information about a dataset in the JSON format.
Food deserts are areas where residents have little or no access to nutritional food. Food deserts exist because of low-incomes, lack of transportation, or too few stores that stock produce and other healthy food items. Governments from the local level to federal have implemented grant programs to encourage grocery store construction in the food deserts. Community activists have also worked to create food co-ops and encourage farmer markets to target the food deserts.
Once a federal agency releases an API, there are several ways they can be used in apps. The most common method is through hackathons. Hackathons are where an agency or agencies present the API(s) and invite developers to create prototype apps. The apps are then presented to subject matter experts for suggestions on creating the final app. There are many government hackathons on a variety of public issues. Visit Challenge.
This week, we will look at three different APIs that demonstrate how agencies use different technologies to serve out data. Presenting data in various formats encourages developers to build on federal APIs. As past columns have shown, the innovative apps created with federal data are quickly growing. The latest API news this week is how quickly the Department of Labor (DOL) built a Software Developer Kit (SDK) for Apple’s new programming language.
The Census Bureau recently released a “machine-readable dataset discovery service” that lists 41 Census data sets. It’s in spreadsheet form and gives a description of the datasets along with links to the API and developer documentation. What makes the discovery service machine readable is that’s based on Project Open Data’s “Common Core Metadata Schema” that uses a standard way to describe and index government information sources. The discovery service makes it easier for developers to find and mix different APIs together to create sophisticated apps.
Not only does the Department of State have a great set of APIs, State also has an excellent example of how to build an informative and useful app. EducationUSA is a network of State Department advisers who help international students apply for U.S. university programs. The EducationUSA app has the most popular resources and services from the EducationUSA website, such as the ability to: Search for EducationUSA advising center information Follow the primary social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, & YouTube) View Frequently Asked Questions (in 8 languages) Discover new financial aid opportunities, and Utilize the Ask an Adviser (in five languages) function The EducationUSA app is an excellent example of designing for multiple-device experiences.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just released the OpenFDA Research Project. At the heart of the project is the OpenFDA API, which allows developers to perform searches on FDA’s drug information database. Coming soon is the ability to search FDA information on medical devices and information about food. Visit the FDA’s API Basics page to learn how to access OpenFDA including interactive sample queries. The FDA’s API documentation is a great example of how to create detailed guidance for developers.
The Food and Drug Administration collects drug labeling information for human prescription, over-the-counter, homeopathic, and veterinary products through a special markup language called “Structured Product Labeling” (SPL). The database created from the SPL submissions is a treasure trove of health information that is valuable to pharmacists, doctors, and the ordinary health consumer. The problem is that data is hard for developers to access and process. Until recently, when the National Library of Medicine released open source code for “Pillbox.
Federal employee training is about to receive a much-needed boost in the President’s 2015 Budget Request. Training is essential to the federal workforce and agencies have a number of learning management systems to deliver online training along with the traditional classroom training. The problem is that all of these training sources don’t share information with each other about what training a learner has completed. Compiling a training record is a tedious and mostly manual process of printing out certificates, filling out SF-182s, and keeping paper records.
Around the D.C. area, one of the first signs of spring are the numerous farmers markets. In my neighborhood alone, I regularly visit four farmers markets that have a wide variety of produce and baked goods. Farmers markets are good for the local economy, and the easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables helps local communities. Realizing the importance of farmers markets, the USDA released the Farmers Market Directory API so that developers can create apps to help people find farmers markets in their area.