Open Data in Action: What is an API?

Content From: HIV.govPublished: April 03, 20122 min read

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In the past, information or data sharing typically required a fee or specific agreements. For example, if you wanted to get content from a news article, you had to buy a newspaper. Technology has changed how we share information: it has removed barriers and created incentives for open data sharing.

One way that online data can be made more available is through an “application programming interface” or API. While the name may be intimidating, you probably use APIs every day. APIs bring us real-time news, weather, and photosharing.

At the Health Experience Design ConferenceExit Disclaimer last week Todd Park, former Chief Technology Officer at HHS and newly appointed CTO to the President, spoke of the benefits of “liberating data.” APIs make data more accessible by making them “machine-readable,” in a format that is downloadable, free, and easy to find. The U.S. government is making more and more health data available so “innovators can turn it into public data that...improves health.” The Community Health Data Initiative, who has used the clinicaltrials.gov API to help patients find clinical trials that are right for them and help companies find patients who are right for their trials.

HIV.gov recently made the information from the HIV/AIDS Service Provider Locator available by creating an API. Currently the HIV/AIDS Service Provider Locator allows individuals and providers to enter a ZIP code and find federally-funded HIV testing and care-related services within a selected mile radius. We hope that organizations and individuals will find innovative ways to use the HIV/AIDS Locator’s API data (service provider names, addresses, phone numbers, locations and so on, categorized by service type) on websites, apps, and databases to connect people to prevention and treatment services.

Whatever you can dream of doing with this public data, it’s yours to use. We are excited to see what you come up with!

In part two of this series you will learn more about the HIV.gov Locator API and how it might be used in the response to HIV.

Let us know what questions you have about APIs and we will try to answer them in our next post. We would also be interested in hearing your ideas for the HIV.gov HIV/AIDS Service Locator API. If you have used APIs before please share your experience in the comments.