The Recent Rise of Government Open Data APIs

In recent months, the number of government open data APIs has been increasing rapidly due to a variety of factors including the development of open data technology platforms, the launch of Project Open Data and a recent White House executive order regarding government data.

ProgrammableWeb writer Mark Boyd has recently written three articles related to open data APIs; an article about the latest release of the CKAN API, an article about the UK Open Data Institute and an article about the CivOmega Open Data Search Engine. This post is a brief overview of several recent factors that have led to the rise of government open data APIs.

About Open Data

According to Wikipedia the term "Open Data" has only recently been given a formalized definition:

"A piece of data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the 'requirement to attribute and/or share-alike'"

The above image shows US cities that have created an open data city government API or city services API(s). Some of the cities included in the map have created open data APIs, but have not yet created a government website providing access to their open data APIs and data.

Although many of the city government open data APIs included in the map are listed in the ProgrammableWeb API Directory Government category, some of the APIs are listed at the Open311 and Socrata websites.

Open311 and Socrata are both organizations that focus on open data technology and providing citizens access to government data.



Open311 is a technology Platform that provides a standardized protocol and an open model for location-based civic issue tracking. The focus of Open311 is to help build open interoperable systems that allow citizens to access and interact with non-emergency city data. Open311 provides a set of API specifications which includes:

  • Inquiry API Spec - For retrieving non-GeoReport-related content. Three fundamental capabilities are supported: services, facilities, and a "311 today" ( RSS) Feed.
  • GeoReport API Spec - Accessed though the Service Discovery mechanism. Used to identify the status and version number for available endpoints in each jurisdiction.



Socrata is a cloud-based software company that is devoted to "democratizing access to government data." The company offers data and government performance products to help make data easier to access. Socrata open data solutions and products include (but not limited to):

  • Open Data Portal - A scalable cloud platform that allows government agencies and businesses to create open data portals for citizens to review, compare, visualize, and share data.
  • GovStat - Allows the performance of government programs to be measured and shared.
  • API Foundry - Allows government agencies and businesses to create custom live RESTful APIs along with dynamic API Documentation, interactive developer console and client code samples.

Socrata also has an Open Data API available that allows developers to access government datasets.

Project Open Data

In May 2013, The Obama Administration announced the launch of Project Open Data and the issuing of an executive order that "requires that, going forward, data generated by the government be made available in open, machine-readable formats, while appropriately safeguarding privacy, confidentiality, and security."

Project Open Data is a collection of code, tools and case studies to help government agencies accelerate the adoption of the Open Data Policy as well as improve the management and release of open data.

Project Open Data is hosted on GitHub and provides developers open data tools and information including (but not limited to):

  • Definitions - Open Data Principles, Open Data Glossary, Standards, Specifications, Formats.
  • Implementation Guidance - U.S. Government Policy on Open Data, Implementation Guide.
  • Tools - Database to API, CSV to API, Spatial Search, Catalog Generator, API Sandbox.
  • Resources - Metadata Resources, API Basics, Data Release Safeguard Checklist.

In the press release, President Barack Obama is quoted as saying:

"One of the things we're doing to fuel more private sector innovation and discovery is to make vast amounts of America's data open and easy to access for the first time in history. And talented entrepreneurs are doing some pretty amazing things with it. Starting today, we're making even more government data available online, which will help launch even more new startups. And we're making it easier for people to find the data and use it, so that entrepreneurs can build products and services we haven't even imagined yet."


The launch of Project Open Data and the recent White House executive order to make the new default for government information "open and machine readable" has had an impact on the number of government open data APIs being created and made available. Although many cities do not yet have a website portal or API available for citizens to access local government data, having open data APIs available for every US city is only a matter of time.

Chart data collected on 7/29/13

Be sure to read the next Government article: Today in APIs: Sunlight Foundation's API Portal, US Gov's Open Source API Management, and 14 New APIs