API is a Key Element to Foster Data Based Innovation


PI First Manifesto

This is a well written manifesto from David Thoumas at OpenDataSoft proclaiming that the ODS strategy will always be API [First]. Below I have slightly edited the content written by David. I want to bring attention to the fine work this company does and why I and my company, BaleFire Global have such high regard for what they do:

At OpenDataSoft, David and team are building and operating a cloud based data management platform. This platform is built 'API first'. This means that any feature that can be accessed from the portal is also available as an API call. The portal is itself the first consumer of the API. Available APIs (source) include:

  • Dataset catalog APIs (keyword and faceted search of datasets within the catalog).
  • Dataset APIs (search within dataset records, geo clustering of geo dataset records, numerical aggregations of dataset records).       David Thoumas from OpenDataSoft
So, not only can one fetch raw data from the portal through API calls but one can also access high level features such as geo clustering and analytics to directly fuel advanced usages on any kind of devices. This makes it extremely easy for an application developer to quickly build a first MVP without having to build any back-end.

API must Support Standards

While APIs are a key feature of Open Data portals, one must not forget a major caveat: potential lack of interoperability. While some advanced features can still be made available through non standardized proprietary APIs, it is key for a data platform to maximize its support of standards. In terms of message formats (JSON, GeoJSON, RSS, RDF...), of protocols (REST, OData...) and security frameworks (OpenId, OAuth, SAML...). Supporting standards is the only way to get the developers community eager to use data portals APIs.

Another good property of "API first" development is that it encourages the development of reusable frameworks based on these APIs. Indeed, an Open Data portal shouldn't exclusively target experienced developers. It should also give to any citizen the possibility to simply reuse Web components, to build their own dashboards and data visualizations.

In Conclusion

  • API [First] development shall be mandatory.
  • Developing and supporting standards will become more and more important.
  • Providing tools and frameworks to ease the reuse of datasets exposed on an Open Data portal is also a key factor of success of an Open Data policy.


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