I’ve burbled on this point before, but more and more, the point of what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office tries and do in digital (or what we ought to be trying to do) is to concentrate not so much on creating a destination website, but to work on setting up the mechanics to deliver our information as widely as possible.
That is, in part, about creating a network of delivery that feeds off the ‘traditional’ web presence – RSS feeds, email and social media, but also a way of bypassing that so that we’re delivering on information in the digital spaces owned by others.
One way of doing that is through the creation of APIs – application programming interface which, effectively, format the information in such a way that developers can take those information feeds and plug them into whatever platform they are working on and push our information into that.
It’s the approach we want to use for two reasons – firstly for establishing the principle – that we’re about the delivery of information and that we want to find new ways to do this. It’s about making the useful information we have part of the weft and weave of the internet.
It’s also about allowing that information to be re-delivered by experts and at low or no cost to us. Civil servants aren’t, with the best will in the world, the best people to build mobile applications, for example. If we paid for developers to do it for us, we couldn’t afford much at the moment (we certainly couldn’t run to the second third or fourth iterations that might be necessary), and we couldn’t add the variety of information that could make such an app compelling – we can’t book flight tickets, share reviews, that sort of thing.
There’s already an API out, as done by the fine people at Directgov Innovate, but now there’s a new one on the market. The nice people at Microsoft have taken our RSS feeds, run them through their clever Azure data market and produced an API.
It’s great for us to have more ways to take our information to the market and while we were aware they were up to something, a few enjoyable chats with the estimable Dave Coplin aside, it’s not something we’ve been involved in. Our feeds are there for people to use, and they used them. For Microsoft, it’s a way of showing off their product, for us it’s more progress on the delivery strategy. Even better, it’s already been used (not entirely coincidentally perhaps) to create an app for Windows Phone, now available in their MarketPlace, and free. Built by AWS, meshing FCO information with information and social networkery from GapYear.com, it’s useful, classy, targeted and networked – and for those reasons, so much better than anything we could have done
Try out the API, if you’re developer-inclined. Try out the app if you’re Windows 7 by nature. Let us know what you think of them.