Business.gov Makes Public Data More Accessible Through Web Services
by StuartR, Former Moderator
- Created: January 28, 2010, 2:07 pm
You may have heard the terms web service, API, mashup, and
dataset. There has been a lot of
talk about these because of the recent Open Government
Directive (OGD) that the Office of Management and Budget released in
December. The directive was in
response to President Obama’s call for transparency
and open government when he first took office in early 2009. But what does the OGD have to do with
web services? And what are they
Web services refer to open software systems designed to
support machine-to-machine interaction over a network. That means that a web service makes it
possible for your computer to get specific information from another
computer. The web service uses an
Application Programming Interface (API) to enable the interaction between the
two computers. Basically, the API
controls how your computer accesses the information in a dataset on the other
computer. That information can
then be mashed up (combined) with other information.
This may sound like a lot of gibberish, but it just means
that your computer and the computer that has the information you want have a
way of talking to each other. One
of the goals of the OGD is to publish government information online to increase
accountability, promote informed participation by the public, and create
economic opportunity. By requiring
agencies to create web services, the government is slowly giving the public
access to information in a methodical and logical way.
Creating Tools that
Business Owners Can Use
Giving the public raw data is like giving a hungry person a
raw egg: they could eat it, but it
wouldn’t be very useful or appealing.
Instead, a web service gives any developer the ability to create
something considerably more powerful than the raw data; much like a great chef
can turn a raw egg into a soufflé.
By combining data from several government agencies or from
other sources, new tools can be created to benefit small business owners. It’s important to remember that the OGD
encourages citizens to collaborate and come up with their own plans for using
the data beyond what the government has done. The idea is:
the more accessible government data becomes, the greater the number of
people who will work with it, and the better the use of that data.
Business.gov Opens Up
The Business.gov team started making its data more readily
accessible early in 2009 just after the President made his call of openness and
transparency. The process required
the team to review its data and determine what would be valuable to the
public. We first examined the data
that Busines.gov visitors request most often. We identified four datasets that we believe are the most
useful and compelling as web
services: Loans & Grants
Search, Business Licenses & Permits, City and County Web Data and Recommended
Why should you care?
This is a terrific example of how Business.gov is becoming more open and
is providing small business owners new opportunities to improve their businesses. Our goal is to make quality, government
information readily available. By
creating web services, we give the public the ability to improve upon
Business.gov’s existing tools to further benefit small business owners. More chefs in more kitchens means more
opportunities for business owners.
Search Tools for
Small Business Owners
Data from Business.gov can be combined with other government
data to create even more powerful tools.
For example, the Business.gov Loans &
Grants Search web service provides information on federal, state and local
financing programs for which a small business owner might be eligible. We use the underlying data to power the
Loans & Grants Search Tool on Business.gov itself.
If this financing data is mashed up with information about historically
underutilized business zones (HUBZones)
from the SBA, a new tool can be created that helps HUBZone businesses find
loans. If this data is further
mashed up with Google Maps, a developer can create web pages with maps
depicting HUBZones and the available financing for that zone. The possibilities for using this data
are only limited by what the public can imagine.
Licenses & Permits web service provides data on federal, state and
local licenses, permits and registrations required to legally operate a
business. Similarly, the New York
City Department of Consumer Affairs provides a Business Toolbox
on their website for finding licensing information, but does not include
federal or state results. The
developers of the New York City search tool might use Business.gov’s Business
Licenses & Permits web service to augment their local search results giving
small business owners more powerful results than either of the tools by itself.
Important URLs for Small
Business.gov’s City and County Web
Data web service is a mashup of state, county and local URLs with information
from the Geographic Names Information
System (GNIS). This mashup
provides developers access to URLs from thousands of government websites that
are cross-referenced by their standardized name, zip code, latitude and
longitude. A developer can further
mash this data with information from local Small Business
Development Centers to create an application that helps business owners
find resources based on their location.
Imagine having all of the small business resources you need in one
Finally, the Recommended
Sites web service provides prioritized search results containing links to
high-quality government websites relevant to small business owners. For example, a request for “tax forms”
returns links to pages on IRS.gov and Business.gov that specifically help small
businesses file and pay their taxes.
A developer might use this data to create a mobile app that combines
links to these URLs with local tax schedules. When waiting for the bus, why not check to see what federal,
state and local tax forms are due next?
Build Better Tools
for Small Business
In addition to the requirement to publish government
information, the OGD also calls upon agencies to improve the quality of
government information, institutionalize a culture of open government, and
enable a policy framework for open government. Web services are just the beginning. As the team continues to improve the
various resources on Business.gov, we hope that developers will use these web
services to develop even better tools for small business owners.
If you have a question on how you to use the web services
API please visit the Business.gov Web Services Discussion forum.
And if you create a great tool using the Business.gov data please let us know!
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