Every City Should Have an API: Let's Start With Watertown, MA

Kin Lane
Sep. 06 2011, 05:00AM EDT

We all have a duty as citizens to participate in government, even if it's just to vote.  With the convergence of the Internet, RESTful APIs, JSON, mobile phones and the wealth of programming resources available today, the opportunities to participate are increasing.

Cities like San Francisco, CA and Portland, OR are making data available via APIs, and tech-savvy citizens are responding with innovative data visualizations, mobile applications and a wide variety tools and information that help local government operate more efficiently.  These in turn benefit the entire community.

Often cities don't have the technical expertise or tools to make data available via APIs, and citizen-developers step up to lend a hand.  One such person is Matt MacDonald in Watertown, MA.  Matt wants to help improve community access to raw data about his city operations, and after realizing that his town administrators didn't have the knowledge or tools, he went straight to the source of their technology.  Tyler Technologies, a 50 year old company providing municipalities with technology services, ranging from property tax management to school information systems.

Matt reached out to Tyler Technologies, but didn't get any official response, and so he blogged about his problem.  Tyler Technologies has one tool called the Eagle Product Suite that offers "web services," but there isn't much more about APIs, XML or these offerings anywhere else on the company's site.

Let's help Matt get the attention of Tyler Technologies and get Watertown, MA an API so its citizens can better participate in the operation of their community.  In this troubled economy, I think our local governments can use the help.  Maybe we all can help Tyler Technologies and other companies that provide technology to our government, understand how important it is that every city, county and state have APIs to make government a more real-time, participatory process for everyone.

Kin Lane I am a programmer and entrepreneur, with a focus on the business of APIs. I study how APIs are changing the business landscape, and the rise of API driven developer ecosystems. I share my insights by blogging on API Evangelist and ProgrammableWeb, and put into action as API evangelist for CityGrid.

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Max Ogden (a fellow at Code for America) has been working on a site to help turn Excel spreadsheets and CSV files into usable JSON APIs for developers. You should check out datacouch.com — might be of interest.

Jared

I have a good friend that is (at least was) a development manager @ the Lubbock, TX location, let me ping him and see if I can get any insight.