Citizen Engagement

White House to host Open Data Day Hackathon

We The People screenshot

The next White House hackathon is intended to improve the programming code for the We The People petition site.

Do you know your way around an application programming interface? Do open data and data visualization make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? Want to work on the code that allowed the public to petition for the administration to build a Death Star or let Texas secede from the country?

Feb. 22’s White House Open Data Day Hackathon might be for you.

The administration is looking for a few good hackers to help develop the next-generation of API code that drives the We the People petitioning system. We the People launched in August 2012 and allows citizens to create petitions that merit official review and response if a certain threshold – now 100,000 signatures – is reached.

It has grown increasingly popular in recent months, with two million new users, six million total logins and 10 million signatures thus far, according to Peter Welsch, deputy director of online platform for the White House Office of Digital Strategy.

In a White House blog post announcing the Hackathon on Feb 5, Welsch said Petitions 1.0, the code We the People runs on, is complete. Now it is time to work towards Petitions 2.0.

"In software development, when you go from one version number to another it means that something big is going on," Welsch said. "We're taking a new approach to how the application works, one that starts with the assumption that it should be as open, transparent, and flexible as possible."

In the post, Welsch said the API on which Petitions 2.0 is based will be released to the public "in the coming months."

"The first set of methods, Read API, will be released in March, 2013 and will allow anyone to retrieve data on petitions, signatures, and responses," Welsch said. "Later, we'll release a second set of methods, Write API, that will allow other websites and apps to collect and submit signatures without directly sending users to WhiteHouse.gov. With this API in place we'll be able to decouple the presentation and data layers of the application and build a new, streamlined signature process."

"This also means that developers who reuse our code will be able to choose which database the application relies on. Between that and our continued work on a white label theme, Petitions 2.0 will be easier for others to contribute to and reuse," Welsch said.

Open data experts with skills necessary to work with APIs, data visualizations, tools and other services can apply to attend the Hackathon at www.whitehouse.gov/developers/hackathon. Those selected will be notified by Feb. 8, and will receive access to We the People’s Read API prior to the Hackathon.

The White House’s Open Data Day Hackathon will precede a set of international coding sessions to be held on Feb. 23. For more information, visit www.opendataday.org.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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