Census API opens data to developers

The Census Bureau has released its first public API, allowing developers to build Web and mobile apps from the bureau’s demographic, socioeconomic and housing data.

The API site, launched July 26, currently allows access to 2010 Census data and the five-year estimates of the 2006-2010 American Community Survey. The bureau is encouraging developers to make use of the data as part of its efforts to support the administration’s Digital Government initiative.

The statistics could be used, for instance, to create apps showing commuting patterns for cities, a breakdown of owners and renters in any neighborhood, or give local governments socioeconomic insight into their residents, Census said in announcing the API.


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“We hope to see many apps grow out of the Census API, as this opens up our statistics beyond traditional uses,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said. “The API gives data developers in research, business and government the means to customize our statistics into an app that their audiences and customers need.”

Along with the API, Census has created a Developers Forum where developers can share ideas, and an App Gallery where people, local governments and other organizations can use the apps to tap into Census data.

Two apps are already live on the site:

Age Finder, a Census-built app that lets users break down populations by age, ethnicity and gender for counties, cities and other places in the United States.

Poverty Map, created by Cornell University’s Program on Applied Demographics, which maps poverty statistics in New York State gathered from the American Community Survey.

Census data has been available to the public in different forms, such as the bureau’s TIGER available via Amazon’s cloud, products for mapping geographic data, and an interactive map widget  with population breakdowns of the United States. Its data sets also have been available on Data.gov.

But this is the first time the bureau has opened up the data directly to developers.

Open-data programs have worked in competitions at the municipal level, such as with Washington, D.C.’s Apps for Democracy and New York’s BigApps contests. It’s also established at the federal level with the Apps for America contest run by the Sunlight Foundation.

The Obama administration’s Digital Strategy, issued in May, requires agencies to make data available via APIs for at least two public services.

 

 

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.

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