What do we mean by ‘open platforms’? What’s an API?

A ‘platform’ is an ambiguous term that could mean a lot of different things — here we use it to refer to a system that connects producers and consumers, enabling them to conduct their own activities using external systems (which can be ‘built on’ the platform). 

An API is an “application programming interface” which provides instructions for computer programs to interact with a database. For example, you can get a forecast from the National Weather Service by going to Weather.Gov. But the NWS also offers a web service (i.e. an API) that allows external applications to access the NWS database in real-time. This enables developers to build applications that connect to the NWS ‘platform’ in order to seamlessly provide public weather data to skiiers, photographers, rainbow chasers, etc. (To learn more about this example, see this segment from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight about the National Weather Service and the importance of open platforms for public information.)

Platforms enable their data to be accessed and used in all kinds of ways, many of which would not or could not be provided by those who operate the platform themselves.

By ‘open platform,’ we specifically mean three things: 

– A system that facilitates the management, publication, and access of open data

– A system powered by technology that is freely available through open licenses

– A system in which interoperability and integration are the primary design objectives

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