What’s Going on in the Labs


October Highlights

Follow the Unlimited Money Tool

Aaron and the reporting team created an insanely useful tool last month that allowed you to track organizations that were paying for ads and other forms of political communication running up to the mid-term elections.

Influence Explorer

The Data Commons Team (Ethan, Alison and Andrew) released a number of new features for Influence Explorer last month: there are now pages for industry giving and lobbying; organization pages now list federal grants, contracts and loans that the organization received; and the front-page got a makeover for the election. We also released the postcard promotion, which let users mail postcards with campaign finance information on candidates in the mid-term elections.

Sunlight Live

Tim and I spent some time over the past few weeks updating the Sunlight Live platform to handle what was needed for our November 2 Sunlight Live Election Night event. Luigi is already starting to work on what the Sunlight Live platform will look like next year.

Other Highlights

Jeremy released and blogged about the photo booth app that’s been a hit at recent events in our office.

Tom wrote a thought-provoking piece on technology lock-in.

We hit 100 GitHub Projects! and are offering prizes to those of you who submit a patch to one of our projects.

Bear data!

Project Updates

Open States Project

James and Michael updated the Open State Project import pipeline to make the scraping more versatile. They also started to add experimental support for calendar information, and began to work towards getting the next five states into the API. November will bring the first of the next batch of states and begin our collaboration with the Minnesota Historical Society on bringing Minnesota data into the project.


Kevin and Kaitlin readied the first version of the tax expenditure database and content for the housing sector. Both are nearing public release.

Capitol Words

Aaron and I are looking to spend a good chunk of November working on the Capitol Words API and expect to have something to show you by the end of the year. The new API will allow you to see who has been saying what in Congress every day.

Design Team

Ali, Caitlin, and Chris had a very busy month. First, they worked very hard (and had a lot of fun!) with the outreach team while creating the site and materials for Operation Transbearancy: Follow the Honey. They were also responsible for making beautiful the Windows Phone application and postcard service that we released this month. In November, they’ll be working on the refresh of the Sunlight Foundation site: a soon to be released site where, among other things, you’ll be able to get Sunlight schwag.

Real Time Congress Server

Eric spent much of the past month revamping the Drumbone API. When it’s all said and done, we’ll have a new API (branded as Real Time Congress) that will allow you to access all sorts of Congressional information in as close to real time as possible. We’re really looking forward to this one.


This month, Aaron assisted the reporting group with stories related to the role that outside money played in the midterm elections this year and worked on the Follow the Unlimited Money Tool mentioned above.

TV Apps

Kaitlin, Eric and Luigi and I continue to play with the various TV platforms out there. We’ll soon bring video from the House of Representatives to Roku, Boxee and eventually Google TV. We have our eyes on other sources of government video, too. Stay tuned!

Mobile Applications

October brought the release of our Windows Phone 7 application, created by Eric. Eric also continued to improve the popular Congress application for Android and I worked on version 2 of the Real Time Congress iPhone application. Expect even more features from these apps once we have the new Real Time Congress Server (mentioned above) up and running.

National Data Catalog

David is spending time thinking about where to go next with the National Data Catalog. Specifically, he’s focusing on how to make the information more meaningful to actual human beings instead of just machines (and librarians).

Better Draw a District

Created as part of our two day Labs Olympics back in July, Better Draw a District is a tool that allows you to have a little fun drawing while learning about congressional districts. David recently spent some time picking the project back up and preparing it for public release. Expect to see something soon.

Upcoming Events

11/10: Hacks/Hackers: Jeremy and I will join Noah Kunin to discuss the Sunlight Live platform and show some of the fun HTML5 technologies we’ve been playing with. Sign up at http://meetupdc.hackshackers.com/calendar/15231117/

11/11 – 11/13: RubyConf Open Government Hackathon In conjunction with Code for America, Sunlight Labs is hosting a hackathon at RubyConf 2010 in New Orleans, November 11 to 13. Luigi, David and Eric will be there to lead sessions on civic hacking and MongoDB. More information is available at http://sunlightlabs.com/rubyconf/.

11/18: Mongo DC: Luigi will be at Mongo DC to show how we’re using MongoDB in the Labs. More information at http://www.10gen.com/conferences/mongodc2010