Doc Searls Interviews Sunlight’s Greg Elin

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Doc Searls, author and Senior Editor of the blog Linux Journal, interviews Sunlight’s Greg Elin in an article about open source in politics and government. Here are the choice parts from Greg describing Sunlight’s work, the data that backs it up, and the future of it all:

Almost all of our projects and funded projects are open source — though sometimes our code is a bit hacked so it takes a while to release it. Nearly every group I know is completely invested in open source: MySQL, PostgreSQL, Apache… The frameworks are being rapidly adopted: Rails, Django, Symfony…

The work I’m most interested in these days is dynamic-scripting — what I think about as “flow-and-go” data sets instead of what Jeff Jonas coined as “rack-and-stack” data sets. Dynamic scripting is Unix pipes! That is, every application does input and output. We leave the world of databases-make-reports and enter the world of RSS-flows-in and RSS-flows-out.

Two examples of flow. A Sunlight database, LouisDB.com, scrapes the Congressional Daily Record daily, transforming it into XML. Garrett Schure (Sunlight Labs developer) and Josh Ruihley did a word count algorithm on the Congressional Record to come up with Congress’ “Word of the Day” and the microsite http://capitolwords.org — which goes back to 2001 and has an RSS feed, API, and a widget people can put on their site. Louisdb.com makes it easier to search the Congressional Record — and now there’s a script boiling it down into tweetable content that others can use, too. Second example, from MySociety: TheyWorkForYou. It provides profiles of what Members are doing in Parliament by parsing the Parliament’s daily record and votes. Lastly, many sites rely on the work of Josh Tauber’s http://govtrack.us b/c. Josh scrapes all sorts of data on bills in Congress and transforms it into XML. Josh’s data is open and so also is his code. It’s a tremendous contribution. … Programmers and technologists who grew up with the web and with open source have been entering the political and e-government arena the past several years bringing with them the tools and practices of open source and Web 2.0. They are collaborating with — and sometimes competing with — existing technologists who were often activists who learned spreadsheets and databases and desktop publishing and then the web to communicate their message. So we are seeing a geek-i-fication of everything from campaigns to good government groups to government itself. More open source. More frameworks. More collaborative communication among individual developers. It’s uneven, it’s bumpy, but it is definitely happening. The tipping point has occurred now in politics and government — the question remains only where the tree is going to land.

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