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WhipCast - Promotion Isn't Transparency

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On Tuesday, the House Majority Whip's office released a "WhipCast" app through the iOS, Android, and Blackberry app stores.

It contains updates from the House floor, and various documents and publications from the Whip's office. It's being billed by the House Republican leadership team as "a step towards fulfilling the House Republican's commitment to transparency and accessibility". Unfortunately, there's nothing transparent or accessible about the app. Most of the information available through the app is extremely partisan, and serves to push House leadership's talking points.

This includes Republican positions as outlined in "Policy Briefs" and "On the Issues" documents, and all sorts of press documents under the headings of "Press Releases", "Top Line Points", and "Rapid Response". Op-eds favorable to leadership are listed under "News Impact". One screen simply embeds the mobile web version of the @GOPWhip Twitter feed.

The only theoretically non-partisan information in the app are the updates from the House floor, but even these are nearly useless. Each update is published by the Majority Whip, ignoring the excellent stream of official floor updates as published by the House Clerk. Floor updates are published one at a time in WhipCast, through PDF - one file per update. Nearly every screen of content in the app is served as PDF documents, hardly a model of accessibility on mobile platforms, but it is a particularly frustrating way to deliver small bits of real-time information.

Most crucially, the information is out of date: as of this writing, on November 18th, the latest updates are from November 15th. By contrast, the House Clerk publishes up-to-the-minute information in HTML, and even XML (which a mobile app could make excellent use of). The House Clerk is doing a model job, and WhipCast could have built on top of that work to provide it in mobile form.

The real problem here is that the House Majority Whip's office is building transparency apps. The Whip's role is to execute on a partisan agenda, not to fulfill a promise of transparency and acessibility. This would have been a more appropriate project of the House Clerk, which has done excellent work increasing the transparency of the House under both Speaker Boehner and former Speaker Pelosi. Joseph Marks at NextGov described WhipCast as "promotion, not transparency", and we must agree.