Thursday, August 11, 2011

California Law API: Preparation for Hackathon

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It's true, California's laws now come with an unofficial RESTful API. This is a great boost for California Law Hackathon plans: now programmers can dive right in and develop innovative ways of presenting and navigating the data in their favorite format- JSON, XML, RDF among others.  If you want to jump ahead to see the API specifications, they are available on the legix.info site here and I've posted them here on the California Law Hackathon wiki.
California Hackathon update
This Sunday, Greg Willson (Granicus) and I were joined by Alex Hendler (Ontolawgy, LLC) in Botswana on a Google+ Hangout (my first) to help set the groundwork for the hackathon. Main points of the discussion:
  • Target date for the hackathon: September 3-417-18 (update)
  • Prepare data and tools for hackathon participants
  • Prepare a list of projects and goals (e.g. legislative time-machine, before and after redlining for bills)
Notes from the meeting are here. Twitter hash: #calawhack
How does the API fit in?
I spoke yesterday with Grant Vergottini, founder of Xcential, who foresees a transformation in legislative technology like the one he helped to usher in to the graphic design world, with the development of Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. He has developed a web-accessible interface to the California laws, that can provide legislative data in a wide variety of formats. This data is updated daily, and should lend itself well to the kind of "time machine" presentation we've discussed for the hackathon.  In preparation for the hackathon, Grant put together the API specifications linked above.  Test them out and share any feedback you have on this API and other tools or data you'd like to see available for California legislation.
That's great, but: What is an API?
A web API (Application Programming Interface) tells programmers how to access data from a website.  FacebookGoogleTwitterLinkedInApple and pretty much any "Web 2.0" site provides some API to their web services.  In a truly Mr. Jobs Goes to Washington moment, the Federal Register announced last week that it was releasing a fully RESTful API, complete with Github account and developer's page.  I am excited that California's laws now have their own (unofficial) API, too.