Brooks: APIs are not a fad

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The milestones laid out in the Digital Government Strategy require agencies to make greater use of application programming interfaces for digital content. This shift in strategy is important because APIs enable the development of mobile applications and mobile-friendly websites, said Gray Brooks, senior API strategist at the General Services Administration.

"What we have found is that the role of APIs is not a fad," said Brooks during a Nov. 27 webinar hosted by DigitalGov University. "It is actually very much the way that significant portions of the Internet are doing business now."

Google, Bing, Amazon, eBay, Twitter and Facebook all rely heavily on APIs to present their content, said Brooks.

"We think there is a strong lesson to be learned," he added.

Brooks' team recently went live with a new website, www.howto.gov/mobile/apis-in-government, which provides background and step-by-step guides to agencies looking to integrate APIs into their content strategy. He said the site will be a work in progress and GSA will continue to build it out with more information.

Among the anticipated additions to the site is the Office of Management and Budget's forthcoming governmentwide web API policy. When the policy comes out it will identify standards and best practices for improved interoperability, he said.

"We will be updating a lot of content on howto.gov to directly respond to that and provide suggestions and useful tools," said Brooks.

By May agencies are required to make high-value data or content available through web APIs. Agencies must also operationalize agency.gov/developer pages.

"There needs to be a hub so that developers can come to a your agency for the first time, and whatever APIs you have made available, they should be able to find them and interact with them in a way that is convenient and usable," said Brooks.

Brooks said it's important that agencies understand creating APIs is not all that difficult. Some agencies can just convert material into XML or JSON and host it live and there are free tools available to help with that, he said. Providing important information in JSON rather than in closed spreadsheets allows third parties to use the data.

Some databases, such as MySQL and Oracle have APIs built in, and working with the system owner can lead to an open API "faster than you think," said Brooks. Other times APIs can be built into the requirements of a new system, he added.

For more:
- go to the webinar page (includes archived webcast and speaker bios)

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