The UK Foreign Office launches a travel information API

I’ve said before on this blog (as the sole avid reader will remember) that the mantra for what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is trying to do digitally is distribution, not destination. We’re not trying to create a network of must-visit websites – experience tells us that government websites tend not to work like that, so there’s little point swimming against the tide.
Instead, what we want to do is to create mechanisms by which we’ll distribute our content, so that people will find what’s useful to them in the natural flow of the internet. So they might follow us on Facebook, Twitter , YouTube or be referred to that content by their friends and peers.
But we also want to hand our information to others to distribute for us. A few months ago we built new RSS feeds and asked developers to see what they could do with them (and then did so again when we got more feeds built). Pleasingly, some of the interest came from ‘in-house’ – David Mann and Russell Garner of DirectGov’s Innovate team took this on and have created a beta syndication platform of our travel information to allow developers to create widgets/apps/whatever. The feeds include a country list, summary or full travel advice and embassy/consular contact information in Atom, Json and vCard formats. You can access the feeds and read the terms and conditions of use here.
This way, we hope, innovative and useful ways of delivering our (very important, very useful) information on travel can emerge. Because, obviously, developers are going to do this better than civil servants and, equally obviously, we can’t pay third party developers to do this. Nor would we want to, the interesting use of this is going to come with how this information is mapped, mashed, melded, and re-formatted.
Have a look although beware, it’s visually underwhelming)
For Directgov Innovate, this is another step in their efforts to open up government content and data to the developer community. But the most important thing for the FCO and them is to get your comments and we really want to see what you can make out of the feeds. This isn’t the ta-da moment of a finished product, this is simply where we’re at. The progress from now will be shaped by your feedback. There are some issues we know about but there’s probably plenty of others where we’ve made assumptions or used information that you’d want done differently. So this is not the end of the project and you can help us finish it. Please send us links to any projects you develop using the API. You can either contact us by email at [email protected] or leave your comments on this blog.
And if you haven’t already, you can also sign up for Directgov’s syndication pilot here.

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