The US Census Bureau has quietly rolled out its API, which means data, data, data for open-government enthusiasts everywhere.
Here's an exhortation I never thought I'd hear from the government: Have fun.
Yet, that's what was written as the sign-off of an email from the Census Bureau's API Team, which just released its beta, providing me with my API key with which to unlock the data hosted on the website of the Census Bureau. When I logged on, I was met with yet another note of encouragement: "Happy querying!"
The Census Bureau's website is as large as Amazon's or Target's, with more than 5 million pages, says Stephen Buckner, the head of the Bureau's Center for New Media and Promotions, which is overseeing the development of the API. It has numbers from both the decennial census and the more-frequent and in some ways richer American Community Survey on population, income, race, age, languages spoken, education, and on and on. But until about a week ago, that data stored within has been boxed up inside static PDFs, CSVs, and Excel files you could download with a bit of digging around. Now with the API's beta roll-out, developers can begin to write programs that will call up that data in much more user-friendly apps, both for the web and for mobile devices. Buckner says he expects the API will come out of beta sometime within the next few weeks.