The open government community was abuzz yesterday with the revelation of the New York Senate website. It is shiny and pretty. There are great new features and even our website, Public Markup gets a shout out. Neat!
What’s great about it is uniformity. Every Senator has a website that’s the same as every other Senator’s, with links to their RSS feeds and even twitter accounts. They’ve got blogs and interestingly enough calendars. Now, the technology for transparency is there. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the Senators are using it yet — I find it hard to believe, for example, that the Senate President has a clear schedule for the rest of the month.. But the technology is there and the NY Senate technology team ought to be commended for building that in (and making it export in iCal!).
With all this neat stuff though, I must say that on the transparency side of things, the site still leaves a little bit to be desired. For instance, the website features an “Open Data” section but the documents contained inside aren’t very open. When I think of “Open Data” I think of the open data principles, and these documents are a collection of PDF files. They’re not machine readable, particularly timely, and are provided out of context without real explanation of what they are.
It also seems that the site completely disconnects biographical information from legislative information. Why not have OpenCongress style profile pages explaining how members have voted, giving them videos of their floor speeches, and showing them what bills they’ve sponsored and co-sponsored. This is probably because updating their legislative information system is perhaps more costly in terms of both time and money, than the team could handle.
Finally, it’d be nice to see the site feature ethics and accountability information for each member. To push the ball forward on the transparency side, seeing each member’s campaign contributions and personal financial disclosure statements would be truly revolutionary.
Much of this doesn’t have anything to do with the team or technology that they’ve put in place. My complaints with the site may require more laws to change before they’re even possible. But it’s great to see the ball move forward in the New York Senate. The groundwork there for change through technology has been laid. Now let’s see if they can be as transparent as they are participatory with the new site.