This month’s Atlantic Monthly reports on the Obama administration’s efforts to open up government through the Internet. Here’s the coolest part, via the Atlantic, something called “API documentation”:
It’s not just the API that’s a big deal, Greg Elin, Sunlight’s chief data architect, told me. “It’s the discipline an API imposes,” he said. To build one, an agency has to record and store data in a way that anticipates public use. “Data sharing is no longer an afterthought,” Elin explained. “You begin with the notion that you’re going to share information. And you’re going to make it easy for people.”
Compare to the New York City Department of Education, which has not produced financial expenditure reports (lists of exactly how taxpayer dollars were spent) since 2004! and which often releases school test score data in unwieldy PDF’s impenetrable to outside analysis. As Eduwonkette put it in July:
Unfortunately, denying data access appears to be a growing Department of Education strategy – in this case, the DOE failed to release data, and in other cases, they have released data only in PDF formats that no one can analyze. There is something deeply troubling about an administration that bows down at the altar of “data-driven decision making” but refuses the public access to data that rightfully should be available in a spreadsheet on their website.