Last Friday I had a chance to meet with Dave Binetti, the man behind @2gov, a new service that aims to make it easier for Twitter-users to route messages to their elected representatives. The idea is pretty simple: register with the site, then include “@2gov” in your tweets. It’ll grab your tweet, look up your previously-recorded location, then run your message through a classification engine that determines what issue(s) it concerns and to whom it should be delivered.
It’s a neat idea, and although the interface is elegantly simple, it’s clear both from meeting with Dave and from his announcement on the Sunlight Labs list that there’s some serious horsepower under @2gov’s hood. There’s the classification engine, for one thing, which is being hand-tuned, but which Dave says is going to remain closed-source, making it not all that interesting from my perspective. And there’s a voter-verification system based on exhaustively-collected voter rolls, which shows an impressive dedication to making sure that the service isn’t merely spamming legislators. The whole thing’s modular, too, opening the possibility of other, non-Twitter interfaces in the future.
What’s most exciting to me is the data powering the site. Dave claims to have collected information on nearly 100,000 elected representatives. And while the data isn’t too deep — he told me it’s basically just name, email address, title and bio — it’s still an impressively large set of useful information. I’d love to see that data set opened to the community. Dave seems game — frankly, I’m not sure how else he could reasonably expect to keep it up to date — but also says it’s not a high enough priority to merit diverting resources toward an immediate release.
There’s one major caveat to my excitement about @2gov: it’s intended to be a commercial service. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but users should be aware of it, and developers should set accordingly realistic expectations about how much of the data and code we’re likely to see. I get the impression that the business model is still evolving; Dave’s talked about advertising, and also about trying to become a sort of mini-MoveOn, which could sell access to slices of the userbase for targeted fundraising appeals.
As a user, knowing that I’m joining a list that might be resold gives me pause. But it doesn’t make @2gov any less neat, or its underlying collection of information any less useful. It’s a great app, and I’m optimistic that the community will be able to benefit from and contribute to @2gov’s success. Here’s hoping that Dave lets us take a closer look at his data soon.