Making Data More Accessible

Use a standard format for data discovery of diverse data sets

I’ve been looking extensively at the great variety of data-oriented REST and REST-ish APIs that are appearing, especially as part of various government transparency efforts. (As an example, there is the Sunlight Foundation’s API to look up information about congress people, or the Follow The Money API to look up information about lobbying and political contributions.)

I notice the following:

1. There are many and they are appearing (and probably disappearing) constantly. More are being added.

2. For a ‘consumer’ (that would be a programmer) of this information it’s pretty time consuming and error prone to study the documentation of each of these ‘similar but different’ APIs. Most are quite well documented but still each has to be discovered and studied separately.

3. Creating applications (either browsers, or widgets, or middleware applications) that use and combine information from more than one source is hard.

I would propose that the government adopt some kind of decentralized data discovery format which would eliminate each of the above problems. It would have the following characteristics:

1. Allow a single access method to access a very broad range of data, numerical, textual and so on, but focused fundamentally on tabular information (broadly speaking.)

2. Be easy and cheap to implement for the data/information owners/publishers

Specifically not require any centralization. Each data owner can independently decide what data to publish with Data RSS and when. New owners can appear and old ones can disappear with no coordination.

I have a specific sample of what this format could look like and how to design and pilot it. I've placed all that work into the public domain.


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Idea No. 617