API Knowledge Base
As you build your website or app you may find the need to link to government resources online. You could want to help people register to vote, or to find information about parking services in a given town. Or, you may want to keep people up to date about what’s going on in a given courthouse.
If this is what you are going to do, you need to understand how government APIs work. Knowing this will make your development time – or your developer’s time – go much more quickly. So let’s talk a little bit about government APIs and how they work.
Data API Definition
What are we talking about when we discuss API data? When it comes to government APIs we are talking about publicly available information. This is nearly all data that is collected by the government. Your tax dollars pay for it to be collected so you own it.
API data is simply that information on government servers that your website or app can access and then send out to your customers. For example say you are running a license plate look up site. The data would be that connected to the license plates that you can send to your customers.
Open Data API
When you get the API from the government it may not be exactly what you need for your site or app. That’s why it’s great that government APIs are open. You can modify them yourself. Or you can look online to see if someone else has already modified it for your needs. Because APIs from the government are open, you can use and alter them as you like.
The good news is that all government APIs will be free for you to use. You just have to find the code online and plug it into your site or app. Governments make their APIs free so that people use the right ones. They don’t want false or misleading data getting out there.
Therefore they build free APIs put them online and let developers find them. To start looking for free government APIs, begin here. If you follow the links, you should be able to find the one that will work the best for your site or app.
All of the APIs you will find should be at no cost to you. If you find a site that is trying to charge you for a government API walk away from that site. They are ripping you off.
City Data API
Cities are where you are probably going to really want government APIs. Every city is going to collect and disseminate data in a different way. Therefore you don’t want to have to write your own generic API and then modify it for every city.
Instead you want to get their own official API and incorporate it into your code. This will also help when the city inevitably updates their method of giving out data. Their own API will update itself withing your code.
Photo courtesy of justgrimes
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