Lots of organizations with large reservoirs of data are looking around these days and trying to figure out how to reinvent their businesses and their relationships with customers. Surely, with more people connected to the Internet than ever before, tapping into user data could be the key to unlocking new avenues of growth.
For those trying to figure this out, there’s one organization that can provide some interesting lessons: The U.S. Federal Government. Yes, the Federal Government.
Politics aside, and for better or worse, it’s quite likely that no organization on the planet is sitting on more data than the U.S. Federal Government. And this summer, one small corner of the vast federal bureaucracy embarked on an aggressive campaign to open its data to developers and citizens in the hopes that it will spark new growth.
In this case, the desired growth is for We the People, the White House’s online petitions platform. Note that last word: platform. White House techies are thinking of this not just as service they can offer, but as a platform that can be extended by developers outside the Federal Government.
Since November 2011, online petitions have grown more popular, with more than 14 million users. That’s a lot of people, but the White House thinks it can get even more folks to participate. So this year, it released a beta Write API for the platform that lets developers place petitions on their own sites for people to sign, so users don’t have to trek over to WhiteHouse.gov.
“The API is a set of methods that will eventually allow people to sign White House petitions using new technologies, and on sites other than WhiteHouse.gov,” wrote Ezra Mechaber, Deputy Director of Email and Petitions in the White House Office of Digital Strategy, in a June 2014 blog post. “While We the People already has more than 14 million users, we want to open up the platform — and make it even easier to petition the White House.”
The White House has been active in courting developers. It held a hackathon this summer to let developers use the Write API. (Check out these Hackathon projects.) It’s also inviting developers to help beta-test the API, and it’s posting documentation on GitHub. The White House has even created a We the People API site for developers.
The strategy is straightforward: Be as open and transparent as possible to attract developers. Invite them not just to build on top of the platform, but also to help test and develop the platform itself. Will that work? Is that same approach possible for organizations sitting on proprietary data? We’ll see. But it will certainly be interesting to watch over the next year to see whether or not this platform approach makes a big difference in the growth of petitions.
Image credit: Yoni Ben-Meshulam