You may have noticed, we’ve redesigned our site. Our awesome new designer, Ali Felski, made it and we’re excited to have her as part of our team. And we’re excited about the new website too. Especially those post-its on the right that allow us to update what we’re working on via twitter.
The website isn’t the only thing we’re redesigning. We’re also redesigning how Sunlight Labs works. We’re clearly no longer the six-month pilot project we were chartered to be 31 months ago. We’re now a team of great developers using technology and the social web to open up the way our government in Washington operates and have been for quite some time. So we’re long overdue for a gear-shift in the way we think about Sunlight Labs and how we work. There are three fundamental shifts in how we think about ourselves now vs. how the Labs was conceived.
The first shift is thinking of ourselves as a permanent institution, and that we are more than a “mash-up lab.” We now develop long-standing projects like Capitol Words and people depend on many of our APIs to run their websites. We think that’s pretty cool. And we’re just beginning. We have two more very large projects in the wings: The Sunlight Data Commons, and the Pew Subsidy Project.
The second shift is understanding that much of the software we write is useful to society and should be open so that anyone can use it to further government accountability and transparency. So, we’re now publishing all of our source under various open source licenses, and as much of our data as bandwidth allows as CC-BY. We’re beginning to make that transition now, and all new projects we create will be turned into Open Source projects. And to the best of our ability, all of the data our software produces will also be available in that form.
Third, we now realize that many of the problems we face cannot be solved through traditional business methods. Whether it is Name Standardization or just finding new ways to take in data there’s a lot of work to be done, and it is probably too much for a small team of eight to do. We need to, instead, begin building a vessel that will enable outside developers to also enjoy the privilege of changing how their government works (and vice versa, how people work with their government). In doing so, we are inspired by our heroes at Apache and Mozilla Foundation, who have blazed a path for open source developers worldwide.
In short: Sunlight Labs is an open source development team dedicated to making their government accountable. And we want you to be a part of it.
Now, to that end, I’d like to announce that with this redesign of the Labs, and a redesign of the Executive Branch of Government, Sunlight is launching its Apps for America contest. The award will be given to the best applications that use our community’s data, tools and APIs to make their government good. Check it out and help us build some apps that shed light on our new Congress.
We’re also opening up our first of hopefully many email lists so that we can begin setting a course for new open source projects, and getting your help on our existing ones. And we’ll need your ideas and proposals for new open source projects as well.
We hope you’re as excited as we are by this new chapter of the Sunlight Labs story.