The New York Times announced today the release of version 3 of its “Congress API.”
- Introducing Version 3 of the Congress API, By DEREK WILLIS, New York Times Open Blog (February 23, 2010).
The Times gets raw data directly from the U.S. House and Senate Web sites and Thomas, the Library of Congress public web site with legislative information. It parses and stores the data on its own servers and provides an API (Applications Programming Interface) to the data so that programmers can query the data, get results, and easily provide the data to users in interesting and unique ways.
This is an excellent example of treating government information as “data” rather than as “documents.” Rather than having a PDF file that lists all members of Congress (a document-centric way to deal with information), a database of all members of Congress with an API front-end to the database (which treats information as data) allows developers to build software that allows users to get a list for a state or district. When combined with other information such as voting records, bill-sponsorship, party affiliation, and so forth, users can get the information they need assembled in response to a specific information request. To the user the end result looks like a “document” but the document is built dynamically from the data.
Developers at the NY Times and elsewhere are using this to create interesting web sites and applications. See, for example, Your Government – The Oregonian, and Congress Speaks, and the Times‘ own Represent, which combines Federal and State information to allow users to find elected representatives in New York City.
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