"We the People," the White House petition site launched in 2011, will soon be available from third-party apps and websites. At 2PM ET today, the Obama administration will start taking applications for a limited beta of the We the People Write API, which lets people sign petitions directly from non-governmental websites. "One of the things we've heard from the beginning is a strong desire from our users to be able to submit signatures and petitions from other sites — and still receive an official response," writes Ezra Mechaber of the White House's digital strategy office. "Up to this point, we haven't had a way to accept signatures submitted from other sites, but that is about to change."
Right now, developers who join the closed beta won't be able to sign real petitions or let their readers do so, and there's no timetable for release. The new API, though, is a continuation of the White House's efforts to release government data to the public. In early 2013, the administration held a hackathon to test We the People's earlier "Read API," which let developers extract and analyze information from petitions; the system itself went open source in 2012.
Since its inception, the White House's petition system has become a low-profile but steady presence in American life — sometimes for getting a real and substantial response on political issues like cellphone unlocking or CISPA, and sometimes for forcing the White House to explain why it won't build a Death Star. Right now, we're not sure whether making petitions available on other sites will encourage more of the former or the latter.