White House releases We the People API

The tool will allow app developers to use the data collected by the online petition site.

screenshot of api code

Application developers can create tools to use data collected by the We The People petition system using the newly-released application programming interface. (Screen capture from the API web site.)

The White House amasses rich, complex data from its We the People petition system, and the May 1 release of its first application programming interface (API) makes it easier for anyone to analyze that information.

The API provides read-only access to data on all petitions that garner more than 150 signatures, the threshold for them to become publicly available on the We the People site, according to Leigh Heyman, Director of New Media Technologies at the White House. It will allow developers to write applications that use the data.

Heyman authored a White House blog post announcing the API, and stressed the importance of allowing information from more than 8 million users, 200,000 petitions and a collective 13 million signatures. The more people who have access to We the People information, the broader the discussion between the public and the Obama administration comes, Heyman said.

"There's a lot we can learn from a set of data that rich and complex, but we shouldn't be the only people drawing from its lessons," Heyman said. "So starting today, we're making it easier for anyone to do their own analysis or build their own apps on top of the We the People platform."

Heyman also touched on the role 21 developers and tech experts played in the evolution of the new API during a February Hackathon – the White House's first. A collection of work they did based on the new API is now available on the White House's API gallery.

"You'll see maps that show the geographic support for a range of petitions, a time-lapse visualization of zip codes where petitions are being signed, an embeddable thermometer that shows progress toward crossing the signature threshold for any given petition, and a range of data analysis," Heyman said.

The White House is gearing up for its second hackthon – this one to coincide with National Day of Civic Hacking – on June 1. Participating hackers were selected via an application process and now have access to the White House's GitHub repository.

In the blog post, Heyman said to expect more from the White House's We the People efforts.

"Now, we're turning our efforts to a Write API that will allow individuals to collect and submit signatures from their own platforms without directly sending users to We the People," Heyman said. "After that, we'll work to decouple the presentation and data layers of the application and begin building a new, streamlined signature process."

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