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Business.gov Makes Public Data More Accessible Through Web Services

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Business.gov Makes Public Data More Accessible Through Web Services

By StuartR
Published: January 28, 2010

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

Its Data

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.

The Business

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

Businesses Owners

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!

Message Edited by StuartR on 01-29-2010 02:49 PM

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