Now that the FDA has released its own open data API, giving Americans easy access to vast amounts of its collected data, our government might start getting a whole lot more transparent.
Application Program Interfaces (APIs) have been a part of programming since the dawn of computers, but these days, they’re finally getting their fair share of the spotlight. According to Deloitte’s Tech Trends 2015 report, “Public APIs have doubled in the past 18 months, and more than 10,000 have been published to date.”
And APIs aren’t just a means to an end anymore. As the CEO and founder of AppDynamics Jyoti Bansal puts it, “APIs started as enablers for things companies wanted to do, but their thinking is now evolving to the next level. APIs themselves are becoming the product or the service companies deliver.”
The Vast Potential of Open Data
One of the APIs that offers the most immediate value to consumers is Open Data, an interface that collects and scans through vast amounts of data for relevant, searchable information before packaging it all up into a very manageable format.
How could such an interface be useful to the general public? The Food and Drug Administration just released its own open API, making its incredibly dense store of public data as easy to sieve through as the results of a Google search. According to an FDA press release, this search tool will give app developers, journalists, and others interested in presenting FDA information “a large amount of flexibility to determine what types of data they would like to search and how they would like to present that data to end-users.”
This release from the FDA demonstrates how APIs can bring transparency to almost any industry or subject of interest. The days in which government officials and departments can hide behind unnavigable swaths of obscure data and documents may very well be numbered.
That might explain why the Affordable Care Act’s website, Healthcare.gov, also announced an open data API, giving developers the opportunity to conveniently and accurately convey information contained within and regarding the controversial legislation. Hounded by criticisms of the law’s intimidating length and Healthcare.gov’s initial failings, President Obama has made transparency on the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act a top priority. Thanks to advanced APIs, that priority might be easier and easier to meet in the coming years.
Providing Open Communication Between Citizens and Government
Of course, open APIs aren’t going to make anything searchable that isn’t already public — confidential or sensitive information is never going to become public. But these APIs do have the potential to remove many of the obstacles between our government and the public. Imagine an app that could instantly and concisely sum up a politician’s voting record, or look at the recorded carbon emissions of your hometown or even your building.
Open APIs may not change the way our government works, but it just might change the way we work with our government. Public information is great, but easily searchable public information is much, much better.