The fine folks over at GSA's new-fangled startup 18F are taking a rather refreshing approach to furthering the cause of open government data. Get the feds who make gov APIs in the same room with folks who consume gov APIs and ask for candid feedback. Sounds like a snore-inducing nerd fest, right? Turns out that couldn't be further from the truth.

I was invited to participate in such a session this morning and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. High points are as follows:

  • It was short, well-managed, and focused. After working on federal contracts for 10 years, meetings that do these three things are few and far between. No goofy conference call muting problems. No errant soliloquies about traffic, weather, your cat, my garden, whatever. I was asked to provide feedback on three APIs with a brief Q&A at the end. All in, it was about 45 minutes. Mutual respect for the time of everyone involved was not just a fun idea, it was enforced. Awesome.
  • It was actually candid. Prior to the session, I was asked to be candid with my feedback. Sure. Everyone asks for candid feedback. But when you really get to the nitty gritty of telling someone their baby looks like a toaster oven, the results can be less than productive. However, this session actually was candid. The environment allowed me to be as honest as necessary and I got the sense the openness was actually appreciated.
  • It was important. It's no secret that GovTribe is a big fan of open government data. Our iPhoneand iPad apps wouldn't really work without it. However, while most of the data we deal with is technically "open", it is not really machine-readable. For example, that sweet PDF made from a badly scanned Word document and posted on an abomination of a website is technically "open". Unfortunately, it's not really helpful at scale. Any effort to move the needle on this issue is super important. The less time spent trying to get data is more time spent innovating on top if it.

Getting the chance to sit down with the folks doing the hard work necessary to make good on the promise of open government data was a swingin' good time. Highly recommended if you get the chance. Big thanks to Gray Brooks and the rest of the 18F crew for putting it together.

EDITED 4/25

For reference, the reviewed APIs are as follows: