Socrata Data API: Keeping Government Open

Ajay Ohri, August 29th, 2012

Socrata Open Data The Socrata Data API or SODA  is one of the foremost API resources for Government and for social data discovery. One of the major use cases for open data is of course increasing law enforcement effectiveness for analysis and transparency. One such mashup using the Socrates API is the Crime Data for San Fransisco.

SODA has two components- Publisher API and Consumer API, where the Publisher API is just a superset of the features provided in the Consumer API. The Socrata Open Data API uses REST including the GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE methods but it also uses JSON, XML, and RDF. SODA’s two authentication methods are using OAuth2 and HTTP Basic. You can access the API using Ruby, Java, Javascript, Python,C# .Net and OAuth2 Rubygem to authenticate with the API. These code examples can be seen at https://github.com/socrata.

The documentation also claims you can  experiment with API calls without writing a single line of code using the SODA console. However we find this console  is not as easy to use for non coders, as other consoles tend to be which use graphical user interfaces with drop down menus.

The Socrata Open Data API does support  a large number of different output formats including JSON,XML,RDF, Text (both .csv and .txt), Excel (both .xls and .xlsx) and PDF. We wish other API creators were just as thoughtful and helpful to users in output formats rather than just providing the now standard JSON and XML.

You can see a rather impressive list of local governments using SODA.  These include 4 state governments (Oregon,Oklahoma, Mississippi, Colorado) and 7 major US cities (Austin, Chicago,Seattle, New York , San Fransisco, New Orleans and Baltimore). (Apparently NY Mayor Bloomberg approves of this SODA!)

Of course we expect these examples to increase in both quantity and quality as open data gets more and more acceptance. The weakness of SODA remains its international acceptance among international governments.

An additional note-

We find private-public partnership in technology in  open data initiatives is being developed and used at a higher rate in the US than API usage in initiatives in open data and websites by  European governments. Indeed the CKAN API seems to be a favored provider of REST APIs for European Datasets while American Open Datasets are leaning towards private platforms like Socrata. CKAN claims to be the world’s most popular open source data portal platform and a look at its examples show that CKAN API is indeed leading over SODA in the European open data portal market but very under-represented in the US Open Data Market.

So is better Government around the corner thanks to web technology? We don’t know yet, but more accountable and more open governments are increasingly just another API call away.

Tags: Examples
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