Many US federal agencies are now running app competitions to highlight their web services (see here), and hopefully get people to build cool stuff using government data (see Data.gov for more). See here for a nice list of the US government's web services.
One of these agencies was the United States Geological Survey (USGS). They opened up an app competition and we won best overall app! Check out our app called TaxaViewer here: http://glimmer.rstudio.com/ropensci/usgs_app/. We were directed to use one or more of their web services, including mashing up with other web services. Of the USGS web services, we only used ITIS, but included 4 web services from other providers. See here for USGS web services.
At rOpenSci, we want to create tools to facilitate open science. Making an app that replicates nearly exactly what you can do in R on your own machine, in a replicable fashion, is what we were aiming for. Although we could have made an app in a modern web framework like Rails or Django, we tried to implement an app appropriate for our target user base. Our TaxaViewer app is a web app, but we see it largely as a way to get users to see the power of using web APIs to do science. There is a lot of data out there - we want to show scientists that they can get that data as part of a reproducible science workflow - and it doesn't have to be hard!
We plan to improve upon the current form of the app in a few ways.
Soon we will be integrating the ability to easily (with one parameter) use local SQL to query your local copy of the ITIS database instead of calling the ITIS web API. This should result in vastly faster queries, without leaving the comfort of your R command line (i.e., you don't have to know SQL :)). You can preview these some of these changes in the
sql branch of taxize here.
BISON is a service just released from the USGS, that serves up United States species occurrence data. They have an API too here. They are a node of GBIF, so there will be some overlap in data available between BISON and GBIF - perhaps there will be some data available in BISON that is not available in GBIF? BISON does serve up maps; I think GBIF only serves up the data itself. We may utilize BISON web services if we think people will use it through R.