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New API Creator Could Be 'Easy Button' for Open Data

Instead of contracting a developer to code for months, governments could use the service to expedite open data initiatives.

In this life, there are tasks we can’t do for ourselves, and tasks we prefer to defer -- to delegate or hand off for need or convenience. The local hamburger stop is an iconic example. Customers place their orders. Servers prepare and deliver. It’s a simple ask-and-receive operation.

Software is no different. For a variety of reasons — speed, efficiency, what have you — software applications have been designed to hand off a multiplicity of to-dos to achieve goals. Netflix or Redbox, for instance, will hand off credit card verifications; a clothing site will hand off pricing updates; and an online writing app can pass file syncing to cloud services such as Dropbox. The hand-offs make things simpler.

However, the challenge in all this back and forth is that software needs something to communicate these requests from Redbox to the verification company, for instance. And that's the role the Application Programming Interface -- or API -- plays. And an API is essential -- without it, Netflix couldn't ping the verification company to do its part. Unfortunately, however, creating an API can take weeks or even months to develop.

Attempting to help answer this technical challenge, a new startup called Instant API is developing a Web platform that will allow APIs to be created and published in a matter of minutes. The company has been co-founded by a four-man team of technologists that include Mimi Ling, Jay Reed, Sunil Kumar and the company’s CEO Scott Ling.

According to the blog The Next Web, the idea came from Ling’s background in agile software development where he found APIs crucial to first efforts at building and scaling apps.

“Building these APIs always took longer than I expected," Ling said in the post. "I knew that we could make it orders-of-magnitude easier and less expensive to build and operate a production-ready API."

The platform is yet to be released; however, Ling estimates users of the service will be charged $30 annually for access to Instant API. The price will deliver features that include real-time documentation, client code generation for API calls and the ability for an API creator to monetize API usage by charging developers and application users.

For government, Instant API may be a cheap yet practical solution for API creation, as APIs are one of the primary ways civic app developers harness and distribute open government data. Instead of contracting a developer to code for months, in some cases, governments could use the service to expedite open data initiatives. According to Ling, the platform only requires a database and can automate the rest.

“Fundamentally we believe that every successful company, organization or person should be able to share their data quickly, easily and in a way that makes sense for them," Ling said. "Making APIs easy to create and share is one strategy to enable this goal.”

Next steps for the platform involve a vetting process by developers who are now being given early access to the platform for testing and experimentation. Currently, a release date for public use has yet to be announced; however, site visitors have been given the opportunity to register for case-by-case early access and notification when the platform is consumer-ready.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.