Year 1 in Review


On December 19th, 2008 we launched a new site with a new mission– to build a community of developers around making government more accountable. On that day, we proclaimed our new mission:

Sunlight Labs is an open source development team dedicated to making their government accountable. And we want you to be a part of it.

People have been organizing to change government forever– and people like John McCain in 2000, Howard Dean in 2004, and Barack Obama and Ron Paul have been raising the bar of organizing by using the Internet to move votes and raise money. Developers have been organizing to make great software, too. Projects like Mozilla and Apache have been helping developers organize to make great software for years.

Sunlight Labs is an experiment to try and blend those two things and see what happens. About a year ago, we asked the question: Can developers be organized to change their government?

Here’s the data– you be the judge:

100 New Applications

Every app, in some way, makes government more open, more accountable and more useful to its citizens. GovPulse makes it so people can easily read the Federal Register, arguably, for the first time. Apps like Filibusted help citizens understand one of the most complicated but crucial rules of the United States Senate. Tweet Congress helps people engage members of Congress on Twitter and see what other people are saying. There’s also the tech team here at the Sunlight Foundation’s code repository with 55 public repositories and the apps we’ve built here– all Open Source, all dedicated to helping developers and citizens open up their Government: TransparencyCorps, Congrelate, CapitolWords 2.0, LouisDB, and this very site (powered by django-anthill)

A crowdsourced bid on

While a failure, we tried. We learned a lot about the language and rules of procurement. We learned how to look at bids, and encouraged new people to become government contractors. More importantly, we got listened to by the Recovery board and ended up with what we wanted– raw access to data (no matter how complete it was), mashable data sources, and the capability to do great things, like an Augmented Reality App and an easy way for others to make their own.

A crowdsourced testimony for the FEC

We developed, as a community, our own testimony to the FEC on how they could improve their data sources. The FEC did something remarkable: they listened and took immediate action. They launched a Data Catalog and a blog to talk about their data, catapulting them into a leadership position amongst agencies when it comes to the use of new media for disclosure.

Great Proposed Designs for Agencies

Our great designer, Ali Felski led our Redesigning the Government series on our blog, showing government that they could develop beautiful ways to interact with citizens and deliver data. These redesigns had an interesting effect: they caused the agencies to call us and ask us to help. In the case of you’ll see that their design looks strikingly similar and we like to think it’s because they, too, were listening. The FCC certainly was.

28 States Parsed

Through volunteers, hackathons, and the hard work of James Turk and Michael Stephens, we have 28 states solidly parsed. Dozens of volunteers have been involved in the project, donating their time and energy into opening up their state legislatures and making it so that their neighbors can have a better idea of what’s happening at the state level.

Most importantly, 1300 Developers

As of this writing, there are 1303 registered here on, and a similar number on our Google Group. It showed a few weeks ago at the Great American Hackathon, in the 100 apps we built, and in the great discussions and events throughout the year.

There’s a lot more — an Android App and an iPhone app waiting in the wings. The National Data Catalog awaits. Two TransparencyCamps went off and created new communities at the local level. Our Subsidy Scope project with Pew showed what happens when you can build great technology around great research.

We think this is what success looks like. The hypothesis that developers could open up their government in ways that we couldn’t even imagine turns out to be one that’s proven true. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done this year. What’s most exciting is that this is just the beginning. Just the test of the experiment that can grow to the next level. So those of you who’ve been helping build this community this year: thank you, and congratulations– you got in at the ground-floor. There’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of amazing things to come in 2010.

Where do you think we should go?